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Ex-CPS chief slams Tory who confused ministers Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi

Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal slammed Tory MP James Gray after he declared two of his party’s most senior Asian ministers Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid ‘look the same to me’.

Mr Afzal said the Conservative politician ‘looks like a racist to me’ after the 66-year-old made the derogatory remark at an event he hosted at Parliament for the cause where both cabinet ministers were guests.

In a tweet the ex-CPS chief 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”. 

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

His comments came as a Conservative Party chief branded Mr Gray’s comments ‘misjudged’.

The MP for Wiltshire – who is ‘commander of charity’ at St John Ambulance – left honoured volunteers and frontline staff at the reception stunned yesterday as he made the slur against the then Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment Mr Zahawi and Health Secretary Mr Javid. 

The 50 invited guests – who also included Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – had been watching Mr Gray onstage when he made the remark. 

He mixed up Mr Zahawi, who has a distinctive white beard, and clean-shaven Mr Javid as he attempted to introduce the former to the audience on the Houses of Parliament’s Terrace Pavillion as the Health Secretary. 

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

An eyewitness said Mr Zahawi immediately had a private conversation with him following the remarks. 

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

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

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''

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”

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

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

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.’ 

Mr Gray insisted to MailOnline he had not said ‘they all look the same to me,’ but admitted confusing 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’.’ 

The comment could be a devastating blow to the Tory party, who have frequently been forced to deny there is any racism among members.

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

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

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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