The government’s housing tsar has been sacked after making a series of “offensive and unacceptable” comments branded racist and anti-Semitic.
Sir Roger Scruton gave his controversial views on George Soros, Chinese people and Islam during an interview with The New Statesman’s deputy editor, George Eaton.
Philosopher and writer Scruton had been chairing the Ministry of Housing’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, but was sacked by Secretary of State James Brokenshire hours after his comments were published on Wednesday.
In the interview, Scruton expressed sympathy for the Hungarian government’s harsh response to the 2015 refugee crisis, reports The Guardian, which notes that he “has been a friend of [right-wing Hungarian PM Viktor] Orban for more than 30 years”.
“Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims,” Scruton said. He then claimed the concept of Islamophobia had been “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue”.
Scruton also appeared to fuel conspiracy theories about the influence of Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros, saying: “Anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.”
Soros, who is a major contributor to progressive causes, is the subject of numerous anti-Semitic conspiracies among the far-right fringe, and has been a frequent target of Orban’s nationalist rhetoric.
In a wide-ranging interview, Scruton added that the Chinese were “creating robots out of their own people… each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing”.
Downing Street said Scruton’s comments were “deeply offensive and completely unacceptable” and that it was right that he had been dismissed.
“He was appointed because of his expertise in the built environment but his comments are clearly distracting from the work of the commission and it is no longer right for him to act as a government adviser,” a No. 10 spokeswoman said.
But Toby Young, who resigned from an advisory role at the Department for Education last year following a backlash over some of his Twitter posts, told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that Scruton’s words had been “misrepresented”.
He added: “None of these opinions are relevant when it comes to accessing his credentials to do this particular job that he had been appointed to do.”
The New Statesman and Eaton have also come under criticism from some of Scruton’s defenders, with Douglas Murray in The Spectator calling it “journalistic dishonesty” – a charge Eaton denies.
It is not the first time Scruton has come under scrutiny. Last November it emerged he had said Islamophobia was a “propaganda word” and described homosexuality as “not normal”, leading to the Labour Party to call for his dismissal.
At the time, Brokenshire defended him as a “champion of freedom of speech”, saying: “He is one of the most qualified people in this particular field, so I am pleased that he has accepted that role. As a public intellectual of renown and author of over 50 books, as well as countless articles and public lectures, Sir Roger is engaged in a variety of topics, often expressing – yes – strong and controversial views.”
Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, said Brokenshire “should apologise for defending Mr Scruton as a ‘champion’ of free speech and for saying our criticism of him was ‘misinformed’ and ‘ill-judged’”.
He added: “Brokenshire also said ‘due diligence’ had been conducted on Scruton’s appointment, so he must explain what this entailed, what processes he followed and how he reached his decision. The Government should also strip him of his knighthood.”