A Conservative MP has embroiled himself in controversy by allegedly saying “they all look the same to me” after he failed to tell ministers Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi apart.
James Gray, the MP for Wiltshire, “introduced” Zahawi (who is Education Secretary) as the Health Secretary (Javid) at a St John Ambulance reception attended by 50 guests, including Labour leader Keir Starmer, sources told the Mail.
When his error was pointed out to him, he apparently told the guests: “They all look the same to me”.
It comes weeks after he was forced to apologise for saying “a bomb” should be planted in Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodd’s office.
In the latest controversy, Gray, a “commander” for the charity, had been hosting the reception to thank St John Ambulance volunteers and frontline staff for what he described as their “extraordinary efforts” during the pandemic.
An eyewitness said Zahawi immediately had a private conversation with him following the remarks and that people in the room were upset by the comments.
“He acknowledged to the audience that his comments weren’t appropriate but in a low-key, jokey way,” the source said.
Gray insisted to the Mail that he had not said “they all look the same to me” but admitted confusing the two men with each other. He said he had expected Javid to be there earlier and saw the top of Zahawi’s head and assumed it was him and added the men were also close, long-term friends of his.
He added: “The notion that this is some sort of racist remark is ridiculous.
“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.’”
Nevertheless, responding to the news, people were disturbed:
A Conservative Party spokeswoman said: “These comments were misjudged. We do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.”
And St John Ambulance asked 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.”