Tories refuse to suspend racism row MP James Gray after he says British Asian ministers Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi ‘look very alike’ – as it’s revealed the pair have a ‘long-running joke’ about being mistaken for each other

  • Gray accused of racism over remarks about Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi
  • He denied charge but admitted mixing them up at Parliamentary reception 
  • Javid ally said he was often confused with Mr Zahawi – and also Alok Sharma

A backbench Tory MP has escaped censure for saying two senior British Asian ministers ‘look the same to me’ – as it was revealed the pair have a ‘running joke’ about being mistaken for each other.

North Wiltshire’s James Gray faced calls to quit over remarks he made about Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi at a House of Commons reception. 

He mixed up Iraq-born Mr Zahawi, who has a distinctive white beard and wears glasses, and clean-shaven Mr Javid, whose family came to the UK from Pakistan, at a St John Ambulance event.

When his error was pointed out to him, he was said to have told the guests: ‘They all look the same to me’. 

Last night he denied using that phrase but told MailOnline he had confused the two men with each other. He added they were also close, long-term friends of his.

He denied being racist and added: ‘I said: ‘I am sorry to confuse the two of you. You two look very alike’. I said ‘I am sorry if I got you two mixed up’.’ 

Following the incident a Conservative Party spokeswoman said: ‘These comments were misjudged. We do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.’

But no further action is expected to be taken against the 66-year-old, who has represented North Wiltshire since 1997. 

One ally of Mr Javid said he was frequently confused with Mr Zahawi – and also with fellow Cabinet minister Alok Sharma. 

‘Saj and Nadhim have a long running joke about it,’ the ally told MailOnline. ‘It’s not even the worst. Saj is often mistaken for Alok.’    

Tory MP James Gray, Nadhim Zahawi and SJA chief exec Martin Houghton-Brown at the event

Health Secretary Sajid Javid poses with hero volunteers and staff at the thank-you reception

In a tweet Mr Afzal wrote: ‘First you had Williamson mistaking one black sportsman for another. Now you have James Gray MP saying he can’t tell two of his own ministers apart because Asians ”all look the same”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (left) and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (right)

The former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal said Tory MP James Gray ‘looks like a racist to me’ after the 66-year-old made the derogatory remark yesterday

Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal slammed Mr Gray. In a tweet the ex-CPS chief wrote: ‘First you had (Gavin) Williamson mistaking one black sportsman for another. Now you have James Gray MP saying he can’t tell two of his own ministers apart because Asians ”all look the same”. 

‘Strange that, he looks just like a racist to me.’

Last night St John Ambulance asked Mr Gray to stand down from all charity activities with immediate effect. 

It said: ‘St John does not tolerate racism in any way, shape or form. We spoke with James Gray following the event about our values as an open, inclusive and progressive charity.’    

Just weeks ago he apologised for saying ‘a bomb’ should be planted in a female Labour politician’s office.

On the eve of Labour’s party conference in Brighton, he made the comment about Anneliese Dodds, the shadow women and equalities minister and Labour Party chair. 

On the latest furore a source told MailOnline: ‘Gray introduced Mr Zahawi to the stage as the Health Minister at the reception and made the remarks when corrected.

‘He told the people in the room ‘They all look the same to me’.

‘He acknowledged to the audience that his comments weren’t appropriate but in a low-key, jokey way. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer spoke at the Parliament event as well as the two Tory ministers

Around 50 of the charity’s volunteers and employees from across England, plus many of the charity’s senior executives and trustees, met Members of Parliament and the House of Lords, along with other VIP guests

Labour deputy also confused names of Mr Javid with other politician 

In June this year Labour MP Angela Rayner also mixed up the names of Sajid Javid and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

She was carrying out interviews criticising the Government over a lack of NHS resources.

In her interview with Sky News she said: ‘We’ve got Sadiq Javid who starts as health secretary.’

Then in a separate chat with Radio 4’s Today programme she said ‘Our NHS is staved of the resources it needs, and Sadiq Javid, who’s coming into that role,’ before being cut off by the presenter.

The mix-up was noticed by Mr Javid, who wrote on social media: ‘Angela Rayner, I know we’re both sons of Pakistani bus drivers, but we’re different people.

Despite their different political leanings Mr Javid and Mr Khan are good friends.

When Mr Javid was appointed Health Secretary, Mr Khan told him on social media: ‘Always good to see the children of bus drivers do well!

‘Congrats Sajid Javid on your appointment as Health Secretary.

‘Look forward to working together to protect our communities from this awful pandemic, get London vaccinated and continue opening up our city and country safely.’

‘But a lot of volunteers at the event were upset by them and Mr Zahawi spoke to Gray afterwards.

‘A lot of people at the event – who were all working hard to roll the vaccine out – have been talking about what had happened.’  

Gray had been hosting the reception on September 8 to thank St John Ambulance volunteers and frontline staff for what he described as their ‘extraordinary efforts’ during the pandemic.

The Monday after the get-together he proudly posted a picture of himself with Mr Zahawi and SJA chief exec Martin Houghton-Brown online. It is not clear whether the photo was taken before or after the incident.

In fact Mr Javid had not yet arrived at the event when it happened and only turned up later and posed for pictures. 

The day before the reception, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Gray had raised the importance of the role of St John, adding: ‘This is, I think, the first opportunity for the whole House to thank all those who have played a role in rolling out the superb vaccine programme over the past six months or so, ranging from the whole of the national health service to the military.

‘If I may, I should like to make particular mention of the Order of St John—St John Ambulance.’

Boris Johnson had replied: ‘The volunteers have been fantastic and I have met many of them over the past 18 months who have done an absolutely astonishing job.’

Mr Gray was admitted as a commander of the Order of St John back in September 2020.

He has been the MP for North Wiltshire since 1997 but has been dogged by a number of scandals

In 2006 he was exposed to have been having an affair while his then wife was battling breast cancer.

Mr Gray had been conducting a 19-month affair with married Philippa Mayo when their relationship was revealed.

They subsequently set up home together just eight miles from his wife’s cottage and got married in 2009.

His former wife Sarah was said to have told friends after the split she wanted ‘His political career to crash and burn’. 

After MailOnline put the story to Mr Gray, he insisted he had not been racist in any way or said ‘They all look the same to me’.

He said he had been expecting Mr Javid to be there earlier and saw the top of Mr Zahawi’s head and wrongly assumed it was him.

He added: ‘The notion that this is some sort of racist remark is ridiculous. They are two very good friends of mine.

‘I said ‘I am sorry to confuse the two of you. You two look very alike’.

‘I said ‘I am sorry if I got you too mixed up’

‘The idea that this is racist is completely untrue.

‘Nadhim did not speak to me about it afterwards, he spoke to a lot of people.

‘They are very close friends of me, both men.’

He said he had not mixed them up before, adding ‘They are very close friends of me, both men.’

Mr Gray also denied St John Ambulance had asked him to step back from charity engagements. 

Mr Javid has previously spoken passionately about who critics on the far right and the left racially abused him. 

The former home secretary said he had been called ‘P***’ and ‘come to expect’ abuse over his Muslim background.

Speaking to Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast in 2019, he said: ‘I get it from the far-left, including lots of Asians, who would say ‘he’s not brown enough’.

‘I get it from the right, and the far-right in particular, saying ‘he’s too brown’. Those critics have got a lot in common – they don’t like me because of my colour

 ‘They believe, whether they’re coming from the far-left or the far-right, that someone’s colour, faith or background should define who they are – rather than the content of their character.

‘That is something that sadly I’ve got used to. I don’t like it, I try to fight it more broadly in terms of the work I do.’ 

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