The head of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street social media team has found herself in hot water in her first week on the job, facing calls to resign for praising a far-right activist who has called Islam “evil”.
Chloe Westley in 2016 endorsed the work of Anne Marie Waters, who has links with Tommy Robinson, calling her a “hero” on a Twitter account which has now been suspended.
Labour immediately called for Westley to resign but the social media chief’s friends insisted she “does not endorse or support the reprehensible views of Waters and was horrified when they were pointed out to her a year ago.”
Westley, an Australian immigrant, has followed the path of many government advisers from the right-wing low-tax pressure group Taxpayers Alliance into the heart of a Tory government.
She regularly appears on media outlets but also stars in her own videos, mocking and attacking Jeremy Corbyn and Labour – a potentially valuable skill with speculation rife that Johnson is preparing for a snap election.
Westley is also part of Johnson’s reunification of the Vote Leave team that delivered the stunning 2016 referendum victory, having headed up that campaign’s controversial social media presence.
But she also represents a new type of Downing Street appointment, having appeared in videos for the UK branch of Turning Point, a pro-Trump student pressure group which has been accused of having connections to racists in America.
The group is also supported by members of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and has been endorsed by Waters’ anti-immigration “anti-Islamisation” movement For Britain.
In a sign of the changing face of government since Johnson dramatically reshaped the cabinet, senior ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel have also praised the organisation.
Westley has made clear in her articles for ConservativeHome that she rejects “extreme forms of nationalism, particularly ethno-nationalism”.
But her small-state views on the economy place her to the right of centre in the Tory party.
Just hours before Johnson’s Tory leadership victory on Tuesday she said she expected the new PM to scrap HS2 and the TV licence, cut taxes for all and embark on a “bonfire” of “unnecessary quangos” – arms-length government bodies.
Number 10 is declining to comment on Westley’s tweet. But Labour have called for her to be sacked.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “It is profoundly shocking that someone who holds these views should be at the heart of government.
“She should never have been appointed in the first place and Mr Johnson must now move swiftly to dismiss her.”