Sayeeda Warsi, Baroness Warsi

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Warsi
Baroness Warsi Official.jpg
Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
4 September 2012 – 5 August 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by The Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Minister of State)
Minister of State for Faith and Communities
In office
4 September 2012 – 5 August 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Hazel Blears (2009)
Succeeded by Eric Pickles (Faith)
Chairman of the Conservative Party
In office
12 May 2010 – 4 September 2012
Served with The Lord Feldman of Elstree
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Eric Pickles
Succeeded by Grant Shapps
Minister without Portfolio
In office
12 May 2010 – 4 September 2012
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Hazel Blears 2007)
Succeeded by Kenneth Clarke
Grant Shapps
Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action
In office
2 July 2007 – 11 May 2010
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born (1971-03-28) 28 March 1971 (age 51)
Dewsbury, England
Political party Conservative
Alma mater University of Leeds
University of Law
Religion Sunni Islam

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, Baroness Warsi, PC (Urdu: سعیده حسین وارثی‎, born 28 March 1971) is a British-Pakistani lawyer, politician and a conservative parliamentarian, who co-chaired the Conservative Party. She served in David Cameron's Cabinet, first as the Minister without portfolio between 2010 till 2012, then as the Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as the Minister of State for Faith and Communities, until her resignation citing her disagreement with the Government's policy on the Israel–Gaza conflict in August 2014.[1]

Warsi grew up in a family of Pakistani immigrants living in West Yorkshire. She studied as a solicitor at University of Leeds and the Crown Prosecution Service. In 2004, she gave up her job as a solicitor to stand, unsuccessfully, for election to parliament. After being raised to the peerage in 2007, Warsi served as Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action. The first female Muslim to attend Cabinet, Lady Warsi came to further prominence when, at her first meeting in Downing Street, she wore a traditional South Asian shalwar kameez.[2]

Early life and career

Warsi was the second of five daughters born at Dewsbury, West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1971, to Pakistani immigrants from Bewal, Gujar Khan; her ancestors are from southern Pakistan. Her father, Safdar Hussain,[3] after starting out in life as a mill worker, operates a bed manufacturing company, which has a turnover of £2 million a year. Warsi has said that her father's success led her to adopting Conservative principles.[4]

Warsi was educated at Birkdale High School, Dewsbury College, and the University of Leeds, where she studied Law. She attended the College of Law, York (now the University of Law), and completed her legal practice training thereafter with both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office Immigration Department.[5]

After qualifying as a solicitor, she worked for the last Conservative MP for Dewsbury, John Whitfield, at Whitfield Hallam Goodall Solicitors and then set up a practice in Dewsbury.[6]

Political career

Warsi was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury at the 2005 general election, becoming the first Muslim woman to be selected by the Conservatives. During the election campaign she was criticised for election literature which was described as "homophobic" by the gay equality group Stonewall.[7] Though she was unsuccessful in her 2005 election bid, she served as a Special Adviser to Michael Howard for Community Relations, and was appointed by David Cameron as Vice Chair of the Conservative Party with specific responsibility for cities.[8]

House of Lords

On 2 July 2007, Warsi was appointed Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion.[9] Enabling her to fulfil this post, she was created a Life Peer as Baroness Warsi, of Dewsbury in the County of West Yorkshire, on 11 October 2007[10] and was introduced in the House of Lords on 15 October 2007.[11] On joining the House of Lords, she became its youngest member.[12]

On 1 December 2007, Warsi travelled to Khartoum, with the Labour peer Lord Ahmed, to mediate in the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case (a British citizen teaching at Unity High School had been prosecuted and jailed for insulting Islam after allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammed). Although the peers' meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir did not lead directly to Gillian Gibbons being pardoned, it is acknowledged that, along with the enormous efforts made by her family, friends, and others, it was a helpful contribution to her release. Gibbons' son thanked Warsi and Ahmed for "their hard work behind the scenes" and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, praised both peers, saying "I applaud the particular efforts of Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi in securing her freedom." The Guardian newspaper referred to the incident as "Tory Peer's Triumph".[13][14]

In Government

Minister without Portfolio

On 12 May 2010, David Cameron appointed Warsi as Minister without Portfolio in Cabinet, when she succeeded Eric Pickles as Chair of the Conservative Party. This appointment made Warsi the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet.[15]

Warsi was sworn of the Privy Council on 13 May 2010.[16]

Cabinet reshuffle

Ahead of David Cameron's first Cabinet reshuffle, Warsi told The Daily Telegraph: "If I genuinely had a choice, I would like to stay doing what I'm doing." Speaking in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she had been attending the Republican Party convention, Warsi said the Prime Minister knew her strengths and weaknesses. She said the Party needed more votes from people in urban areas and more women. She said: "If you look at the demographics, at where we need to be at the next election, we need more people in the North voting for us, more of what they call here blue collar workers and I call the white working class. We need more people from urban areas voting for us, more people who are not white and more women. I play that back and think, I'm a woman, I'm not white, I'm from an urban area, I'm from the North, I'm working class — I kind of fit the bill. All the groups that we're aiming for are groups that I'm familiar with. I believe you've got to have the right people in the right job," she added.[17]

In the same interview, she said that she was angry some viewed hers "as a tokenistic appointment". Lord Ashcroft found "at the 2010 election, only 16% of ethnic minority voters supported the Conservatives. More than two thirds voted Labour. Not being white was the single best predictor that somebody would not vote Conservative. The gulf between the Conservative Party and ethnic minorities is a well-known feature of British politics. It persists in spite of the Tories' efforts in recent years to reach beyond their core voters." [18]

In the event, on 4 September 2012, Warsi was appointed to the restyled post of "Senior Minister of State" in the Foreign Office and Minister for Faith and Communities (the latter being a role she shadowed in Opposition). Warsi announced she had been removed as Party Chairman via Twitter, tweeting, "It's been a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman, signing off @ToryChairman".[19]

Minister in UK

Senior Minister of State

Lady Warsi meeting Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Rassoul in Kabul

At the Foreign Office she was responsible for:

  • Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh
  • Central Asia
  • Human rights
  • The UN, OIC, international organisations and the International Criminal Court
  • All FCO business in the House of Lords[20]

At the Department for Communities and Local Government Lady Warsi worked with religious and community leaders to promote faith, religious tolerance and stronger communities within the UK.[21]

Islamic Finance

Warsi established and co-chaired HM Government’s first Ministerial Task Force on Islamic Finance.[22] She said that the industry worth around $1.85 trillion (£1.15 trillion) globally, with growth rates of up to 15 percent each year. She argued "with billions of pounds in reported assets, and with the world's financial capital, the UK is an increasingly important global player in the Islamic finance". Iconic buildings like London’s Shard have been given life with the help of Islamic finance, and London is home to a growing number of banks, law firms and other service providers with expertise in the sector. Added to this she argued "is Britain’s wider business offer. From our legal system and regulatory framework to our time-zone and track record of innovation, the UK is rightly seen as a partner of choice". She said the Government was determined to play its part in the development of the Islamic finance market. This is why the Prime Minister announced that we want to become the first country outside the Islamic world to issue an Islamic bond, a sukuk. She argues Britain is "a first class destination for trade and investment" and she is determined to "cement Britain's position as the leading player for Islamic finance".[23]

Her vision of an "Islamic Finance economy that never sleeps" has struck a chord with the industry.[24] At the World Islamic Economic Forum, the UK Government announced that Warsi will chair a new Global Islamic Finance and Investment Group. The Group will include members from key Islamic finance centres, including Chief Executives and Central Bank Governors. It will meet regularly to identify and address the critical factors that will drive the global Islamic finance market over the next 5 years. Bringing together senior experts and practitioners from industry and governments the group will consider the issues surrounding Islamic finance and how best to work together to promote its development.[25]

Persecution of Christians

In a public speech at Washington DC in 2013, Warsi stated, "there are parts of the world today where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow."[26]

Declaring it a "global crisis", Warsi made the case for an international response, calling for a "cross-faith, cross-continent unity on this issue – for a response which isn't itself sectarian. Because a bomb going off in a Pakistani church shouldn't just reverberate through Christian communities; it should stir the world."[26]

Gay rights

The gay rights organisation Stonewall, as well as several Labour politicians, questioned her suitability for a high-profile Conservative Party role owing to leaflets issued during her 2005 election campaign that contained views which they claimed were homophobic. Some of her 2005 campaign leaflets claimed that Labour's lowering of the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, was "allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships",[27] and that homosexuality was being "peddled" to children as young as seven in schools.[28] But speaking in December 2013 at a BNP Paribas event in support for the Kaleidoscope Trust, she apologised for her leaflets and said she was "on the wrong side of history" on gay rights.[29]


On immigration matters, Warsi declared that people who back the British National Party (BNP) may have a point: "They have some very legitimate views. People who say, 'we are concerned about crime and justice in our communities – we are concerned about immigration in our communities'".[30][31] On 22 October 2009, Warsi represented the Conservatives on a controversial edition of Question Time marking the first ever appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP.[32] During that broadcast she strongly criticised the BNP, and when directly asked whether she was in favour of civil partnerships, replied, "I think that people who want to be in a relationship together, in the form of a civil partnership, absolutely have the right to do that."[33]


File:Amnesty petition on Afghan women's rights (9360548978).jpg
Lady Warsi with Amnesty youth activists who handed over a petition on Afghan women's rights.

On 30 November 2009, Warsi was pelted with eggs by a group of Muslims whilst during a walkabout in Luton. The protesters accused her of not being a proper Muslim and of supporting the death of Muslims in Afghanistan. Warsi told the BBC that these men were "idiots who did not represent the majority of British Muslims". She later continued her walkabout with a police escort.[34] In May 2010, British radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary warned that she could be in physical danger if she visited Muslim communities. He said she would be attacked by eggs every time she went near a Muslim community and some protesters may take the attacks further, because he did not view her as a Muslim and could not represent Islam or any Muslim due to her support of the military involvement of the British Army in some Muslim countries.[35]

In the context of the United Kingdom debate over veils, a Tory MP tried to ban women from wearing burqas in public in 2010. Warsi responded that the garment does not limit women from engaging in everyday life. Amidst critics who say the burqa is divisive and has no place in British society, she argued that the choice of what to wear should be down to the individual.[36]

Warsi argued against following the example of France by banning Muslim women from wearing the veil, as this was "not the British way" she said "that allowing people wear what they want was the basis of a free society". She added: "I think I would be as offended if I was told 'actually you must wear a miniskirt to work because that's what we like women to wear' as I would be if somebody came to me and said 'we want you to be covered from head to toe because that's what we like woman to wear'."

But she also insisted that those who choose to wear garments such as full-face veil must accept that there are some situations in which it is not appropriate and some jobs they might not be able to do.[37]

Warsi received supported in her stance from Tory colleague and Immigration Minister, Damian Green who said banning the face veil would be "un-British" and would be at odds with Britain's "tolerant and mutually respectful society".[38]

In 2009, Warsi was named as "Britain's most powerful Muslim woman" by an Equality and Human Rights Commission panel and in 2010 as one of the world's "500 most influential Muslims" by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, a Middle East think tank .[39][40][41]

Church and society

In September 2010, during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to England and Scotland, Lady Warsi said the Labour Government appeared to have viewed religion as "essentially a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history. They were also too suspicious of faith's potential for contributing to society – behind every faith-based charity, they sensed the whiff of conversion and exclusivity. And because of these prejudices they didn't create policies to unleash the positive power of faith in our society."[42] She returned to this theme, as a Cabinet minister, in February 2012, saying "Britain is under threat from a rising tide of militant secularisation", before an official visit to the Vatican to mark the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties between the UK and the Vatican.[43] She added, "I am not calling for some kind of 21st century theocracy. Religious faith and its followers do not have the only answer. There will be times when politicians and faith leaders will disagree. What is more, secularism is not intrinsically damaging. My concern is when secularisation is pushed to an extreme, when it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere".[44] A Muslim herself, Warsi says that Europe needs to be "more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity".[43]

On the Church of England, she insists she had "no doubts whatsoever" about maintaining its position as the Established Church, describing the CofE as a "bedrock" of society. She believes "the system works": "We have an Established Church", it has "a unique position" and an "obligation to all of its parishioners irrespective of their faith". She thinks "it is an incredibly positive aspect of our life in Britain and long may it continue."[45]

In November 2013, Warsi told an audience at the University of Cambridge that faith was being put back at the "heart of government", as it had been under Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. The Coalition, she argued, is one of the "most pro-faith governments in the West ... More often than not, people who do God do good." She said that religious groups must be allowed to provide public services without the State being "suspicious of their motives". Quoting Thatcher she said, "I wonder whether the State services would have done as much for the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for him?"[45]


On 5 August 2014, Warsi resigned from the Government citing concerns that she was no longer able to support the Cameron Government's policy on the escalation of violence in the Israel–Gaza conflict, describing the Government's position as "morally indefensible". In her resignation letter, Warsi wrote that the UK Government's "approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically" and that it was "not consistent with the rule of law and our long support for international justice".[46][47]

Warsi criticised the British Government by saying it could "only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker and at the moment I do not think it is." She explained: "Our position not to recognise Palestinian statehood at the UN in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time."[46] After resigning she called for an arms embargo against Israel: "It appals me that the British Government continues to allow the sale of weapons to a country, Israel, that has killed almost 2,000 people, including hundreds of kids, in the past four weeks alone. The arms exports to Israel must stop."[46]

I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East – the situation in Gaza is intolerable. Our policy has always been consistently clear: we support a negotiated two state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace...... More widely, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know how grateful I am for the contribution you have made to the Conservative front bench, both in Opposition and in Government, over seven years' continuous service.—David Cameron's letter to Lady Warsi


The Daily Telegraph said that her resignation was a blow to the Prime Minister David Cameron as it highlights divisions within Conservative MPs about criticising Israel for the high levels of civilian deaths in Gaza. Her resignation letter praised ministers that had lost their positions in the recent Cabinet reshuffle: William Hague whom she called "one of the finest Foreign Secretaries this country has seen", and Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve as strong upholders of international law. She expressed concern about the way recent decisions were made in the Foreign Office.[49]

While calling her decision "bold", Time magazine wrote that her whole story is rooted in commitment to a higher calling, further adding that "It makes her decision to resign is all the more dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage". "I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decision I took or the decisions I supported," she said in her resignation letter. "By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that." Moreover, the magazine concluded that she may have resigned, but that does not mean her voice has been silenced: it may be louder as a result.[50]

The Guardian called her an 'uncomfortable fit in Tory ranks', adding that her appointment to David Cameron's first top team was seen as an attempt to broaden the party's appeal to women and minorities; but from the beginning, Warsi's rapid rise was viewed with suspicion by some in the Party's grassroots and the rightwing press, who regarded her position as tokenistic. The paper claimed that in the early days, Warsi had genuine influence on Conservative policy, helping the party formulate its thinking on extremism and speaking out frequently against what she saw as an increase in prejudice against faith, especially Islamophobia; however, the paper continued, Warsi's star began to fall among the Tory hierarchy some years before mainly because of unpopularity with the old guard and a series of outspoken gaffes that annoyed the spin doctors.[51]

I think Baroness Warsi has acted with principle & integrity. People around Britain have been shocked by the suffering we have seen in Gaza. - Ed Miliband MP

Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune in an editorial admired Warsi's decision to resign for a matter of principle. The paper also stated that her resignation is going to further aggravate internal tensions and Tory grandees, who have long disliked and resented her, are already briefing against her, accusing her among other things of being a Hamas sympathiser. The paper termed her resignation over the Israeli actions in Gaza as having far-reaching implications for the British Government and that she remains a potent figure on the UK political stage.[52] Journalist Michael White claimed in an article that in the British Muslim community Warsi should gain some support for putting her job where her mouth is over the distress of Gaza, further adding, "This is the first time that I can recall a senior Muslim politician, even one who is an unelected patronage appointee, throwing some community weight around ...."[53]


Roger Helmer defection

In March 2012, Warsi was criticised by a number of Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee for her handling of MEP Roger Helmer's defection to UKIP. A witness to the meeting said, "She had a very very tough time. She got it with both barrels from MPs across the party. For the Party Chairman to get treated like that shows what people think of the Party Chairman." Another is reported to have said, "I just thought she was out of her depth. I have never seen anything like it – other than the last time she was before the 1922 Committee. I genuinely think she is the worst chairman we have ever had."[54]

Financial declarations

In May 2012, Warsi apologised for failing to declare rental income in the Lords' Register of Interests. Declaring the fact of income, but not the amount, is necessary for rental income over ₤5,000.[55]

Parliamentary expenses inquiry

On 27 May 2012, criticisms of her claims for parliamentary expenses were reported. The Labour Opposition urged a full police investigation into her expenses after it was alleged that she claimed up to £2,000 in despite staying rent-free in the London home of a Conservative Party donor, Dr Wafik Moustafa. Moustafa claims that he received no money from Warsi. Though he stated it was not personal, Moustafa was in a political dispute with Warsi concerning the Conservative Arab Network.[56]

Labour MP John Mann expressed his intention to refer these claims to the Lords Commissioner for Standards, but Warsi pre-empted this by referring them herself.[57]

Breach of the Ministerial Code

Sir Alex Allan found Warsi to have committed two breaches the Ministerial Code, though he concluded they were minor and noted that she had apologised. The first was in relation to a trip to Pakistan where she failed to declare that she was being accompanied by a business partner but Sir Alex found that even were Lady Warsi to have declared the relationship it would not have prevented the trip from going ahead. The second was when she invited her business partner (Abid Hussain) to meet David Cameron at a Number 10 Downing Street Eid event.[58]

The Conservative Party leadership was criticised in some quarters for holding Baroness Warsi to account on the Ministerial Code while apparently having a more relaxed approach to Jeremy Hunt, who was Culture Secretary at that time.[59]

Following the publication of the report, David Cameron said Baroness Warsi would remain in her job.[58]

Awards and nominations

In January 2015, Warsi was nominated for the Muslim Woman of the Year award at the British Muslim Awards.[60]

Personal life

File:Sayeeda Warsi and Iftikhar Azam.jpg
Sayeeda Warsi and Iftikhar Azam

At the age of 15, when on holiday with her extended family in Pakistan,[61] a number of boys were introduced to her, and from them she chose her cousin Naeem. They married in 1990 and had one daughter, Aamna. Naeem later denied that the marriage had been arranged.[62][63][64]

Warsi describes herself as a "Northern working-class mum".[65] She is a member of the Carlton Club, and a shareholder of Rupert's Recipes Limited and Shire Bed Company.[66] She and her first husband divorced in December 2007. On 20 August 2009, she married Iftikhar Azam in a Nikah ceremony at her parents' house in Dewsbury. The couple live in Wakefield with their five children.[64]

Styles of address

  • 1971-1990: Miss Sayeeda Hussain Warsi
  • 1990-2007: Mrs Sayeeda Hussain Warsi
  • 2007-2010: The Right Honourable The Baroness Warsi
  • 2010-: The Right Honourable The Baroness Warsi PC


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External links

Political offices
New office Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action
Position abolished
Preceded by
Hazel Blears
Minister without Portfolio
Succeeded by
Grant Shapps
Kenneth Clarke
Minister of State for Faith and Communities
Succeeded by
Eric Pickles
as Minister of State for Faith
New office Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Succeeded by
The Baroness Anelay of St Johns
as Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Party political offices
Preceded by
Eric Pickles
Chairman of the Conservative Party
Served alongside: The Lord Feldman of Elstree
Succeeded by
Grant Shapps
The Lord Feldman of Elstree