Tory MP Craig Whittaker has explicitly blamed Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities for the spike in coronavirus cases seen across areas in the North of England that has led to new local lockdowns.
In an LBC interview this morning, the Calder Valley MP said: “What I have seen in my constituency is that we have areas of our community – sections of our community – that are just not taking the pandemic seriously.”
Asked to clarify whether he was referring to the Muslim community, he replied: “Of course. And when you look at the areas where you’ve seen rises and cases, the vast majority – but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – but it is the BME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”
When Whittaker was warned by the LBC host Ian Payne that “you could come in for a lot of criticism for this”, the Tory MP added: “Absolutely. But I’ve been challenging our local leaders now for two weeks, three weeks, asking what are we doing to target these areas”.
He denied that the lockdown was linked to Eid, but said: “Look at all the areas. You’ve got Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, and we have Bradford in particular and Kirklees have two of the largest populations in West Yorkshire.”
“We’re talking, sort of, immigrant communities, are we?” asked Payne in response. “Yeah,” Whittaker replied. “Well, immigrant and Asian population.”
Commenting on the remarks, shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch tweeted: “Simply not true. I speak to my local BAME community every day.
“We are all looking at packed beaches, mass football celebrations + excessive drinking on nights out with despair. That isn’t taking this seriously.”
Wes Streeting said it was “racist scapegoating”, while Charlotte Nichols tweeted that it was “just racism, pure and simple”, “not borne out by the evidence” and an example of “Tory divide and rule”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told Radio Times: “To be frank, the Tory Party should do something about it because it is quite disgraceful, what he was saying.”
Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, described the comments – issued on Eid day – as “appalling” and “truly nasty”, adding: “Let’s not pretend this is anything other than race baiting & trying to #blametheMuslims”.
Craig Whittaker has been MP for Calder Valley since 2010. He is currently a backbencher but has previously held government posts including several whip roles in recent years.