Keir Starmer has encouraged the government to “engage” with those who have expressed concern over the appointment of Trevor Phillips to the BAME coronavirus inquiry.
Labour welcomed the government announcement earlier this month that there would be a review looking into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.
The investigation launch followed news that 70% of the 54 frontline health and social care workers who died due to coronavirus in England and Wales were from an ethnic minority.
But groups including the Muslim Council of Britain, and activists such as Sayeeda Warsi and Simon Woolley, have criticised the involvement of broadcaster Trevor Phillips in the inquiry.
The broadcaster and former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission was recently suspended from the Labour Party pending investigation of Islamophobia claims.
At a 2019 event, he reportedly asked: “To what extent is the argument around Islamophobia already having an effect in silencing those who report our world?”.
Phillips also reportedly suggested that Muslims “see the world differently to the rest of us”, and allegedly referred to UK Muslims as being “a nation within a nation”.
Asked about the calls for Phillips to be removed from the BAME coronavirus inquiry, Keir Starmer’s spokesperson today said: “We’re aware of the representations that have been made.
“What we’d ask is that the Health Secretary engages with those who are concerned and discusses an appropriate way forward.”
Reacting to the government launching its review in mid-April, Labour’s new Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova welcomed the move.
“The devastating effect of Covid-19 on BAME communities cannot be overstated,” she said. “This review must be the first step in ensuring that all communities are equally protected from this virus.”
Labour then launched its own review into the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME communities, and appointed Baroness Doreen Lawrence to the post of race relations adviser.
Starmer said: “In the face of this national emergency, Labour will continue to work constructively with the government. That includes shining a light on issues where it is clear more detailed understanding is needed.
“It is extremely concerning to see the disproportionate toll coronavirus is taking on our BAME communities. We cannot afford to treat this as an issue to investigate once the crisis is over. We must address it now.”