A Labour frontbencher has sparked a row with a Tory MP after accusing him and fellow colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds of selling their “souls and self-respect” by accepting jobs in Boris Johnson’s newly formed cabinet.

His remarks came after the Conservatives’ newly appointed party chair, James Cleverly, mocked Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 claim that only Labour can be trusted to “unlock the talent” of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Bame) people.

Exiting the first meeting of Mr Johnson’s top team earlier this week, Mr Cleverly said: “Looking at my colleagues around the cabinet table when this tweet popped back into my memory. Seeing a lot of ‘unlocked talent’ in the room.” 

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But Clive Lewis, a Labour frontbencher who is of mixed race, replied to the Tory chair on his Twitter account. “Genuine congratulations James,” he said. “I mean it.”

“I’m just sorry you & the other black members of the cabinet had to sell your souls & self-respect to get there,” he added. “You serve under a racist PM and sit next to a minister for equalities previously fired for the Windrush scandal.” 

Responding to the shadow treasury minister’s comments, Mr Cleverly said: “Didn’t see this earlier, I’ve been in meetings. Busy being the chairman of the Conservatives. 

“Really surprised that you’re so bitter about seeing more diversity in senior political positions. Or are you guys just scared?”

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the 2020 London mayoral election - who is also a person of colour - defended his colleague, claiming: “This kind of vitriol is meant to frighten communities into line, not to encourage them to participate in the political process.

“I’m glad to be party of a party that promotes and believes in BAME (black and minority ethnic) talent and I will gladly celebrate if Labour is ever able to match our achievements.”

Mr Johnson has a history of racist comments, including describing African people as "picanninnies" and referring to "watermelon smiles" and likening Muslim women who wear the niqab to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

The public row came after Mr Johnson’s team described the new administration as a “cabinet for modern Britain”, after appointing a record number of individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Those include the home secretary Priti Patel, the chancellor Sajid Javid, and the international development secretary Alok Sharma, while Mr Cleverly will attend cabinet sessions in his capacity as Conservative Party chair.

Mr Lewis told The Independent that his comments applied to all individuals serving in the cabinet who were from ethnic minorities.

“Racism is clearly alive and well in our society," he said.

"We know black people have been disproportionately hit by Tory austerity policies. Unemployment and a general upsurge in race-related hate and violence is directly attributed to Brexit."

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