Row erupts over Trevor Phillips suspension from Labour on Islamophobia charges

Elliot Chappell
© CC-BY-SA/Stephan Röhl

Labour has suspended broadcaster and former politician Trevor Phillips from the party pending investigation of Islamophobia claims made against him, provoking a row over the disciplinary action.

The former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission received an 11-page letter from the party informing him of his suspension and an investigation, The Times exclusively revealed.

In the party’s letter to Phillips, items of evidence are listed, including a transcript of his comments at a Policy Exchange event at Tory conference where The Mirror reported he asked: “To what extent is the argument around Islamophobia already having an effect in silencing those who report our world?”.

Phillips also reportedly raised the possibility that Muslims “see the world differently to the rest of us”, and said people should not be “continuously pretending that a group is somehow eventually going to become like the rest of us”.

Commenting on the allegations on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Phillips said: “I am kind of surprised that what is, and always has been, an open and democratic party decides that its members cannot have healthy debate about how we address differences of values and outlooks.”

Phillips stuck by past remarks that Muslims were “different”, adding: “The point is Muslims are different and, in many ways, I think that is admirable.” He described Labour’s decision to adopt the definition of Islamophobia agreed by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims as “nonsense”.

He told the BBC: “My personal hero was Muhammad Ali, before that Malcolm X. They became Muslims largely because it is a pan-racial faith. This is not a racial grouping, so describing hostility to them as racial is nonsense.”

Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank that hosted the Conservative Party conference event in 2019, has now released a report entitled ‘The Trial: the strange case of Trevor Phillips – How the accusation of Islamophobia is used to stifle free speech‘.

In the report, Trevor Phillips claims his free speech is being stifled by the accusation of Islamophobia. He argues that he has not “transgressed the arcane codes laid out in the party’s rules”, and claims to be the victim of a “witch-hunt”.

The 39-page document published this morning also includes a foreword by frontbench Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who describes the charges against Phillips as “outlandish” and says they “bring disrepute on all involved in making them”.

The paper contains Labour’s letter to Phillips informing him of the suspension, the reply to Labour from Phillips, as well as comments on the definition of Islamophobia by Mahmood, Dr Martyn Frampton and Sir John Jenkins.

Iain McNicol, former general secretary of the Labour Party, has retweeted a post that says the original Twitter user is “horrified” by the suspension of Phillips as “one of the bravest and most principled people I know”.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw tweeted: “This swift action against Trevor Phillips is in stark contrast to the complete lack of action against anti-semites I & many other Labour MPs have reported repeatedly to @JennieGenSec & who remain Labour members.”

The Labour Party adopted the definition of Islamophobia put forward by the APPG in March 2019, in the wake of the attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Also speaking to the Today programme this morning, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Miqdaad Versi said of Phillips: “The statements that he has made on a number of different things would not be statements he would make against other communities.”

The MCB assistant secretary, explained: “He says Muslims don’t report terrorism as much as anyone else. Another false statement. He says Muslims have sympathies with terrorist. Again, proven to be incorrect.”

Phillips founded the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which is now investigating Labour over claims of institutional antisemitism, and was the chairman of the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust.

A spokesperson for the Labour Party has said that it “takes all complaints about Islamophobia extremely seriously” and they are “fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken”.

Everything Labour.
Every weekday morning.

By clicking ‘subscribe’ you confirm you have read and agree to our privacy policy

More from LabourList