UK Muslims criticise 'insensitive' appointment of Trevor Phillips in BAME coronavirus deaths investigation

UK Muslims criticise 'insensitive' appointment of Trevor Phillips in BAME coronavirus deaths investigation
The Muslim Council of Britain has said the selection of Phillips, who is under investigation for Islamophobic comments, is 'insensitive' and 'wholly inappropriate'.
3 min read
26 April, 2020
Trevor Phillips was suspended from the Labour Party in March over his Islamophobic comments [Getty]
The appointment of Trevor Phillips to assist an investigation into the high death rate of UK Covid-19 patients from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds has come under fire from leading Muslims who say Phillips’ record of Islamophobic remarks makes his selection “wholly inappropriate”.

The anti-racism campaigner, who was suspended from the Labour Party last month pending an investigation into his past comments, was invited by Public Health England to contribute expert advice to an inquiry into why a disproportionately high number of fatalities from coronavirus are from non-white backgrounds.

Phillips, 66, had a controversial tenure as the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission between 2003 and 2012.

Studies have shown that black people are dying from Covid-19 at almost double the rate of their proportion of the population, based on an analysis of NHS data for the first 12,600 deaths from coronavirus in English hospitals. While black people make up 3.4 percent of the population, they have constituted 6.4 percent of the pandemic’s victims.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the UK’s largest umbrella body of mosques and Muslim organisations, emphasised the importance of the investigation but criticised the selection of Phillips as insensitive and inappropriate, as Muslims are overwhelmingly of BAME backgrounds.

Harun Khan, the Secretary General of the MCB said in a statement: “While we appreciate Public Health England’s desire to examine the over-representation of BAME deaths caused by Covid-19, it is wholly inappropriate to give that responsibility to someone being investigated for racism. The decision is particularly insensitive given that British Muslims overwhelmingly come from BAME communities and so many Muslim doctors have died at the front line of this pandemic.”

“Mr Phillips has a consistent record in pushing the divisive narrative of Muslims being apart from the rest of British society,” Khan said, pointing out comments made by Phillips this week that Muslims are less at risk from Covid-19 because of “ritual washing”.

“While Mr Phillips may claim that he was in fact praising Muslims and their practices, the subtext yet again is one that posits Muslim religious practise as alien to mainstream culture,” Khan said.

“The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME communities is a serious issue which has seen many Muslims lose loved ones,” Khan added.

“Appointing an individual who has boasted about being labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ sends a clear signal to British Muslims that Public Health England is not taking this matter seriously.”

Labour MPs Naz Shah and Yasmin Qureshi also spoke out against Phillips’s appointment.

Shah tweeted: “It’s an insult to the memory of the numerous Muslims who have lost their lives, and also an insult to those Muslims who continue to serve on the frontline.”

The UK government announced on 16 April it was launching a formal investigation into why Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted people from BAME backgrounds.

The review, led by the NHS and Public Health England, follows a study showing that more than a third of seriously ill coronavirus patients were from BAME communities, who represent just 13 per cent of the UK population.

All 14 doctors known to have died from the virus so far in the UK have been non-white.

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