UK’s longest-serving Black MP denied chance to speak during debate on racism at least 46 times

Diane Abbott, the first elected Black woman and the longest-serving Black member of Parliament, blasted United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for denying her the ability to ask questions during a debate over racist remarks that were allegedly made about her.

The Guardian reported on Monday that Frank Hester, a conservative donor to the British Conservative Party, also known as the Tory Party, allegedly said that Abbott “should be shot” and that “you just want to hate all Black women because she’s there,” reportedly referencing Abbott during a meeting with his colleagues in 2019.

During a weekly session called “Prime Minister’s Questions,” while seated in the House of Commons chamber, Abbott was denied the opportunity to ask the prime minister a question regarding Hester’s comments, even after standing up at least 46 times to get the speaker’s attention. A spokesperson for the prime minister said Sunak ran out of time to answer questions and that “the Speaker must select MPs from either side of the House on an alternating basis for fairness.”

Shortly after the ordeal, Abbott took to X and wrote, “I don’t know whose interests the Speaker thinks he is serving. But it is not the interests of the Commons or democracy.”

In November 2023, Hester gifted Sunak with a helicopter for a political visit valued at £15,000. However, in light of Hester’s controversial remarks, Sunak has faced demands to return the gift. Sunak rejected those calls. The U.K.’s first Indian prime minister called Hester’s comments “racist” and said he had accepted Hester’s apology.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak,
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 11: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) talks with Ahmad Al Dubayan, Director General of the London Central Mosque (not in frame) during a visit to the Mosque on March 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Daniel Leal – WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Shortly after news broke about the controversial remarks Hester made towards Abbott, she released a public statement that read, “To hear someone talking like this is worrying.” She continued, “The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.”

Abbott asked Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to intervene and advocate on her behalf and published an op-ed on Wednesday in The Independent titled “Yes, the Tories are outrageously racist and sexist – but Labour is guilty too.” She wrote, “The Tory party has long been a source of whipping up racism in this country, including directed at me personally.”

Abbott said she was the target of the conservative political group during the 2017 general election when campaign vans traveled through the city with the slogan, “Do you really want Diane Abbott as Home Secretary?” She also criticized the Tories for their “reluctance to call out racism and sexism.” She demanded they return 10 million Great British Pounds (12 million U.S. dollars) Hester donated to the political party in the past year.

Abbott also condemned the Labour Party for its “delay in calling out” the abuse and for downplaying what Hester said.

“It should be absolutely clear that the reported remarks … were both outrageously racist and sexist,” said Abbott.

Hester now faces calls to step down from his post as owner and CEO of The Phoenix Partnership over his controversial remarks. This comes after Abbott, who has served as a member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, has made headlines in the past for condemning racism.

In 2023, she wrote a letter to The Guardian’s Observer, in which she wrote, “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice.”

“But they are not all their lives subject to racism,” added Abbott. “In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote,” she continued. “At the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on. The slave ships.”

The Labour Party was offended by her letter and suspended her from the party as the Labour whip, making her an independent member of Parliament.

Although she has since apologized for her remarks, she remains under investigation for composing the letter. Once the investigation is complete, whether Abbott can return to her post as Labour whip will be determined.

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Diane Abbott, the first elected Black woman and longest-serving Black member of UK Parliament, criticized Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for denying her the opportunity to ask about racist remarks made about her. Conservative donor Frank Hester allegedly made derogatory comments about Abbott, which led to demands for Sunak to return a gift from Hester. Abbott called out both the Tory and Labour parties for failing to address racism and sexism. She also faced backlash from the Labour Party for comments she made in a letter about racism. Abbott has been a vocal advocate against racism and has condemned discriminatory actions in the past. Hester is now facing calls to step down from his position over his controversial remarks. The investigation is ongoing to determine if Abbott can return to her position as a Labour whip in Parliament. Abbott remains a prominent figure in the fight against racism and discrimination in the UK.

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