Mark Spencer MP: who is ex chief whip now Commons Leader in cabinet reshuffle - and Islamophobia row explained

A probe into allegations of Islamophobia linked to the former chief whip Mark Spencer is underway

Boris Johnson has tinkered with his top team as he looks to stave off a confidence vote and lay the foundations for the next election battle.

The limited reshuffle saw Mark Spencer moved from chief whip to Leader of the Commons, with the previous holder of that role, Jacob Rees-Mogg, becoming Minister for Brexit Opportunities.

It comes as last month Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani said she lost her job as transport minister in 2020 because of her ‘Muslimness’.

Mark Spencer said that he was the individual who spoke to Ms Ghani – although he strongly denied using the words claimed.

So, who is Mark Spencer - and what has Nusrat Ghani claimed?

Former Chief Whip Mark Spencer arrives at Downing Street on February 8 ahead of the reshuffle (Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

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Who is the new leader of the commons?

Boris Johnson announced a small reshuffle of his top team yesterday (February 8).

It included former chief whips being moved into cabinet positions, with Mark Spencer, MP for Sherwood, and Stuart Andrew taking up new titles.

Controversially, Mr Spencer will take over as Leader of the House of Commons after fulfilling the role of chief whip since July 2019.

Former Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg (L) and ex-Chief Whip Mark Spencer leave from 10 Downing Street (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

When did Mark Spencer join government?

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His political career went relatively under the radar when he first walked down Whitehall in 2010.

The MP for Sherwood started out as a backbencher for six years, after a stint at Nottinghamshire County Council where he was the shadow spokesman for community safety.

His big break was in the Tory whips’ office, which he joined in June 2016 just before Theresa May took power, and then quickly rose through the ranks.

Now, Mr Spencer is arguably one of the most important figures in Boris Johnson’s premiership.

In 2019, he was appointed as chief whip by Boris Johnson.

It was the first role Boris Johnson dished out following his victory in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

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Away from politics, Mr Spencer is a farmer and businessman whose family have lived on the edge of Nottinghamshire for four generations.

Unlike his peers in the commons, he was not educated at Oxbridge, instead qualifying at Shuttleworth Agricultural College in Bedfordshire.

Why is there an investigation into Islamophobia?

Last month Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the Cabinet Office to “establish the facts” regarding Tory MP Nusrat Ghani’s claim that she was sacked as a minister because of concerns about her “Muslimness” in 2020.

Ms Ghani said she was told by a Government whip that her faith made colleagues “uncomfortable”.

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Mr Spencer confirmed he was the subject of the claims, but strongly denied making the alleged comments, saying the accusations were “completely false” and “defamatory”.

Downing Street has said the investigation into allegations of Islamophobia linked to the former chief whip should not be pre-empted, following his appointment as Commons Leader.

Asked about reported criticism from MPs over Mr Spencer’s move from chief whip to Commons Leader on Tuesday, given the ongoing investigation into the allegations, the PM’s official spokesman said conclusions should not be drawn pre-emptively.

“As you say, there is an investigation ongoing to establish the facts of what happened. And that’s being carried out in a process… in line with a due process,” he said.

“It’s right that we need to allow that investigation to conclude without… pre-empting it or drawing conclusions whilst that work is ongoing.”

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The Cabinet Office probe was ordered by the PM in January after Ms Ghani claimed to The Sunday Times that she was demoted from the position of transport minister in 2020 due to her Muslim faith.

The MP for Wealden in East Sussex said a Government whip told her that her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue.

Mr Spencer identified himself as the whip in question, but denied the substance of the alleged conversation.

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