Petition for people of colour on British banknotes gains ground

Bank of England will decide who graces the new £50 note after 114,000 nominations by the British public

Assistant Section Officer Nora Inayat-Khan, who was awarded the George Cross posthumously. Miss Inayat-Khan, of the Women's Royal Air Force, was the first woman intelligence radio operator to be infiltrated into enemy-occupied France. She was captured by the Gestapo and shot at Dachau in September 1944, at the age of 30. Although constantly sought by the Germans, who knew her only by her code name 'Madeleine', she would not leave her post. She was the daughter of the late P M Inayat-Khan, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Paris. Educated in France, Miss Inayat-Khan trained as a nurse. The award was received on her behalf by her sister Miss Claire Ray-Baker, accompanied by their brother, Mr Inayat Khan
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Campaigners are calling for people from ethnic minority backgrounds to feature on the new British £50 note.

The Bank of England is looking for suggestions for scientists who could adorn the new note in November and received 114,000 eligible nominations from the British public. The list has now been whittled down to 800, but Bank of England governor Mark Carney will make the final choice in 2019.

However, campaigners say the shortlist is not representative of the UK today, particularly the 14 per cent of the nation from ethnic minorities.

On Sunday, a letter published in The Times newspaper argued for the next two people featured on the note to be from an ethnic minority background.


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“We do not lack candidates, and arguably their achievements were the greater for having been made at a time when many careers and were effectively closed to them through colonial rules, racism or the legacy of slavery,” the letter read.

“However, no one from an ethnic minority has yet featured on a banknote.”

The letter was signed by more than 200 high-profile Britons, including poet Benjamin Zephaniah, journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown and a number of MPs from across the political spectrum, and kicked off a wider campaign.

A petition launched on Monday has more than 700 signatures so far, bringing together campaigns by political commentator Patrick Vernon and humanitarian Zehra Zaidi for more representative banknotes.

"It is certainly about time that Britain's institutions better reflect the diversity of our society – having an ethnic minority face on Britain's banknotes is one part of this, not least because representation matters," said Joseph Willits from the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who also signed the letter to The Times.

The campaign issued a list of potential candidates who “have shaped UK society through their thought innovation, leadership or values”. These include Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, who was from Jamaica, and World War II heroines Noor Inayat Khan, Violette Szabo and Odette Hallowes.

The current £50 note, issued in 2011, features steam engine pioneers James Watt and Matthew Boulton.