Islamophobia row over choice of consultant for UK Covid role

Former equality chief Trevor Phillips has been suspended from the Labour party over his comments

Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, has made controversial remarks about Muslims. Oli Scarff / Getty Images
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The appointment of a prominent consultant to investigate why Covid-19 is killing a disproportionately high number of minorities in the UK has sparked a backlash because of his involvement in an Islamophobia row.

Trevor Phillips, a former head of an equality watchdog, was suspended from the opposition Labour party this year over claims of Islamophobia but has been chosen to advise the UK’s main public health body on coronavirus death rates.

Data suggests that 34.5 per cent of critically ill patients were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The 2011 census suggested that less than 11 per cent of the population was from a black or Asian background.

Mr Phillips was suspended from the Labour party over comments he made about the outlook of the British Muslim community and a case in which Pakistani men abused children.

“To appoint someone who is being investigated for racism is inappropriate and deeply insensitive,” said Yasmin Qureshi, an MP, in a letter to the head of Public Health England.

Ms Qureshi said that the appointment undermined the integrity and credibility of the review.

“It is critical that this review is independent and has the confidence of all communities, and so I urge you to reconsider this appointment as a matter of urgency,” she said.

Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, also criticised the appointment.

“Covid 19 is not a culture war It’s the difference between life and death,” Dr Haque said in a tweet.

“The fact that Public Health England have appointed Trevor Phillips, someone with concerning attitudes towards Muslim communities as the main adviser into the racial disparities review is highly concerning.”

Mr Phillips claims to have introduced the term Islamophobia to Britain when he commissioned a 1997 report into discrimination.

He later said a “chasm” had opened between the thinking of Muslims and non-Muslims on social issues. He suggested that multiculturalism in the UK had failed.

The research consultancy run by Mr Phillips and Prof Richard Webber, a demographics expert, was appointed because of the large-scale studies it carries out on ethnicity.

Initial work conducted by his consultancy suggested that washing before prayers may have helped to curb the spread of the disease in some places, he said.

The investigation found that 13 of 17 Covid-19 hotspots in England and Wales had non-white populations above the national average.

"Everyone should be contributing anything they can to tackling this crisis," Mr Phillips told the Huffington Post.

“Anyone can see the research Richard and I have already done on our website, which explains why we’ve been asked to help."

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