Labour criticised over quiet lifting of Trevor Phillips member suspension

Sienna Rodgers
© CC-BY-SA/Stephan Röhl

Labour has been criticised after it was revealed that the membership suspension of Trevor Phillips was quietly lifted by the party without going to the national ruling body and without a public apology being issued.

The decision to lift the suspension did not go to Labour’s national executive committee and LabourList has been told that the investigations officer working on the case – the only Muslim staffer in Labour’s governance and legal unit – was not included in the process.

Critics of the decision have pointed to a paper agreed by the Labour NEC in 2019, which stated: “Except in cases of mistaken identity, only the NEC can choose to lift a suspension and issue a warning”.

But this refers to concluding the disciplinary action, whereas the Phillips case is still being investigated. This has led to questions over why the administrative suspension has been lifted when the case remains active.

While it is understood that the decision to lift a suspension during an investigation – without the NEC being involved in the move – is in line with Labour’s procedures, one Labour insider said: “Whether you’re suspended during an investigation is a total lottery… The whole thing isn’t fair or just.”

LabourList understands that party procedures allow for reviews of administrative suspensions and that the lifting of a suspension during an investigation does not preclude the party from reinstating the suspension if required at a later point.

Phillips, who is a member in Keir Starmer’s constituency and currently hosts the Sky News weekly politics show on Sunday mornings, was suspended from the party last year pending investigation of Islamophobia claims made against him.

He had 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”.

The decision to suspend Phillips, a former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, prompted a row at the time. It is now understood, as first reported by The Guardian, that he was readmitted at least three weeks ago.

Reacting to the decision, Labour NEC member Mish Rahman told LabourList: “Since David Evans took over as general secretary, the standard practice has been to suspend first, ask questions later. Usually these suspensions continue until they finally come before an NEC panel.

“In this instance, Trevor Phillips seems to have been offered preferential treatment – hopefully not due to his employment as a presenter on Sky News.

“It is abundantly clear that the party bureaucracy is using suspensions for factional ends. This has to change. We must apply the rules consistently and fairly.”

A spokesperson for the Labour Muslim Network said: “We are once again in a position where we must express the deep disappointment and frustration of Muslim members and supporters across the UK.

“Trevor Phillips’ case is one of the most high-profile recent examples of Islamophobia within the Labour Party and quietly readmitting him behind closed doors, without apology or acknowledgment, will only cause further anxiety and hurt among Muslims.”

Labour MP Zarah Sultana said: “Trevor Phillips has made a string of deeply Islamophobic statements, from saying Muslims ‘see the world differently to the rest of us’ to calling Muslims a ‘nation within a nation’. Those remarks are racist and should be unequivocally condemned.

“Before readmittance, the party must at the very least require a full retraction and apology. Anything less makes a mockery of the idea that the party takes Islamophobia seriously and signals contempt for our Muslim supporters.”

Apsana Begum MP said: “His silent readmission to the Labour Party without even as much as an explanation or apology is an insult to my community. To fellow Muslims – solidarity, I stand with you on another dark day.”

Another NEC member on the party’s left claimed the decision amounted to “political interference in disciplinary cases, which has been expressly forbidden by the EHRC”, referring to the body that investigated Labour antisemitism.

“If Labour doesn’t stop giving the green light to Islamophobes in our party, Batley and Spen will be the first of many seats with large Muslim populations which were safe under Jeremy Corbyn but become at-risk marginals under Keir,” they added.

The LMN conducted the largest ever consultation of Muslim members and supporters of Labour last year. It found that more than one in four had directly experienced Islamophobia in Labour and over one in three had directly witnessed it.

Starmer, along with deputy leader Angela Rayner and general secretary David Evans, met with LMN after the Islamophobia report was released and promised to implement the recommendations in full.

The Labour Party and Trevor Phillips have been contacted for comment.

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