David Cameron was met with cries of “racist” in the House of Commons as he joined attacks on Labour’s London mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, claiming he has shared a platform with extremists.
The prime minister laid into Khan during prime minister’s questions, claiming the Labour candidate had nine times shared a platform with a known Islamist extremist called Sulaiman Ghani.
The attack echoed those made by Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative mayoral candidate, who has claimed his opponent would be soft on crime because he “provided cover for extremists”.
In the Commons, Cameron said: “If we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but also extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way it is very important we do not back these people and we do not appear on platforms with them. And I have to say I am concerned about Labour’s candidate as mayor of London who has appeared as again and again and again ...”
After being interrupted by heckles, Cameron continued: “The leader of the Labour party is saying it is disgraceful. Let me tell him, Sulaiman Ghani –the honourable member for Tooting has appeared on a platform with him nine times.
“This man supports IS [Islamic State]. I think they are shouting down this point because they don’t want to hear the truth. Anyone can make a mistake about who they appear on a platform with ... but if you do it time after time after time, it is right to question your judgment.”
Cameron was immediately accused by Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, of participating in an Islamophobic campaign against Khan.
Labour MPs shouted “racist”, while Jeremy Corbyn branded the attack disgraceful.
A Labour source said: “It demeans the office of the prime minister to repeat some of these allegations. Sadiq’s been very strong on issues of terrorism. The people of London will decide which mayor they want.”
However, a Downing Street source strongly defended Cameron’s right to raise the issue, saying: “The prime minister is calling into question the judgment of Sadiq Khan. That’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do.”
Goldsmith has put allegations that Khan has associated with extremists at the forefront of his campaign to be mayor. In a speech last week, Goldsmith said Khan was a politician who had “given platforms, oxygen and even cover – over and over and over again – to those who seek to do our police and capital harm”.
Khan has confronted the allegations directly, saying he regrets ever giving the impression that he shared the views of extremists.
At a stormy BBC debate with four of his fellow candidates, the Labour frontrunner said he had never hidden the fact that, as a former chairman of Liberty and a human rights lawyer, he had acted for “some pretty unsavoury characters”.
And when asked if he regretted sharing a platform with extremists, he said: “I regret giving the impression I subscribed to their views and I’ve been quite clear I find their views abhorrent.”
He has promised during the campaign to be a Muslim mayor who tackles extremism.
Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, has also hit back at the suggestion that he or his campaign team had labelled his Labour rival an extremist himself. He said: “My campaign has been overwhelmingly positive. I have made it very, very clear that I have never suggested that Sadiq Khan was an extremist in any way at all.
“The point I have made, and Londoners have made and the newspapers have made on a regular basis is that Sadiq Khan has given platforms and oxygen and even cover to people who are extremist and I think that is dangerous.”
He added that the claims made against Khan himself had been down to “only a few nutjobs on Twitter”.