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Cabinet minister Mark Harper denies Tories have a problem with race

A senior cabinet minister has denied the Conservative Party has a problem with race after accepting at least £10m from a donor who is accused of racism.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the BBC he was in “the most ethnically diverse cabinet there has ever been”.

Mr Harper said his party welcomes members “whatever their race”.

Donor Frank Hester apologised after reportedly saying ex-Labour MP Diane Abbott made him want to “hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

The party has refused repeated calls to return Mr Hester’s money, despite labelling his alleged comments as “racist” and “wrong”.

Mr Harper also refused to comment on reports the Conservatives have accepted a further £5m from Mr Hester, which would take his total donations to the party to £15m in under a year.

He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme he was not involved in party finance but “if in the future there’s a future donation, that will be declared in the usual way”.

When asked by Laura Kuenssberg if the Tory party has “a problem with race”, Mr Harper said: “Absolutely not.

“As the prime minister said this week, we are a party proudly led by the first Britain Asian prime minister.”

He said the current cabinet is “the most ethnically diverse cabinet there has ever been”.

“We are a party that welcomes people from across the UK whatever their background, whatever their race, if they share our values and approach to politics,” he added.

Mr Harper argued that “we should accept” Mr Hester’s apology.

But former Downing Street advisor Samuel Kasumu said he was disappointed in Mr Harper’s argument.

Having the “most diverse cabinet in history “was not a “get out of jail free card” on race issues, Mr Kasumu said.

The former advisor to Boris Johnson has been a frequent critic of Conservative Party’s approach to race since leaving government in a row over a racism report.

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Mr Kasumu said: “It is not the colour of your skin that matters when it comes to tackling racism, discrimination and bringing communities together – it has to be the content of your character and your willingness to lead.”

Mr Kasumu added “some of our most divisive politicians are people like Suella Braverman”, the former home secretary who is of Indian descent.

On Sunday, Baroness Warsi – the Conservative’s first Muslim chairperson – said her party had become known as “the institutionally xenophobic and racist party”.

Speaking on Politics North, Baroness Warsi, who chaired the Conservative Party between 2010 and 2012, said: “We should not be a party that takes money from people who have the kind of views that [Mr Hester] is alleged to have had.”