Appointment of Trevor Phillips under fire

Trevor Phillips
Foto: CC-BY-SA Stephan Röhl / www.boell.de

By Lianne Kolirin

Leading British Muslims have criticised the selection of Trevor Phillips to advise an inquiry into why so many coronavirus victims come from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Public Health England has asked Mr Phillips, the former chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to “provide expert support” on why people from BAME backgrounds are dying at almost twice the rate of their proportion in the population.

Analysis of NHS England data showed that BAME people accounted for 6.4 per cent of the first 12,600 deaths in English hospitals although they make up only 3.4 per cent of the population.

While the inquiry was welcomed as “urgently needed” by the Muslim Council of Britain, the appointment of Mr Phillips was not, after he was recently suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of Islamophobia.

Mr Phillips, 66, is being investigated for public statements on a range of issues, including expressing concerns about reluctance to associate the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham and Rochdale northern towns with Pakistan Muslim neighbourhoods, the failure by some Muslims to wear poppies for Remembrance Sunday and the sympathy shown by some Muslims in an opinion poll towards the motives of the Charlie Hebdo killers.

Trevor Phillips gave a robust defence in The Times, saying he had fallen victim to “Labour’s inquisition”. He said his essay on Rotherham was honest journalism. He had introduced the term “Islamophobia” when he was at the Runnymede Trust and objected to a definition that says it is racism, because Muslims are not a race.

Mr Phillips was born in north London the youngest of 10 children. His parents had emigrated from British Guiana in 1950. He became head of the Campaign for Racial Equality in 2003 until its abolition three years later when he became chairman of its successor, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, until 2012.

He is the co-founder of the data analytics firm Webber Phillips, which collates data so that business can “better understand the cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins of its users, customers, clients and employees”.

Invited to do the newspaper review on BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House on Sunday, 26 April, he said: “It’s disappointing to see something like this politicised. The truth is that everyone who can do something about this should be contributing. We have some technology that the government does not have, the technology at the analytics company that I founded and run. We have 160 years’ collective experience in this area and the government wants to draw on that.”

Harun Khan, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, described the appointment as “wholly inappropriate” under the circumstances. In a statement on the MCB website, he said: “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 . . . Mr Phillips has a consistent record in pushing the divisive narrative of Muslims being apart from the rest of British society . . . 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.”

An open letter signed by a number of key black women in British society, also called for Mr Phillips’s replacement. Posted by InfluencHer, a collective of 100 black British women from media, law, criminal justice, health, education and publishing, and their supporters, it says: “This is a call to action for you, Public Health England, to choose a leader for this pivotal investigation, who is willing to make tough calls about reducing health inequalities by dealing with the reality of racism and its impact on healthcare. With this in mind, we demand you replace Trevor Phillips.”

Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, an NHS anaesthetist and Labour councillor, tweeted: “I am a Muslim doctor. I have worked in the NHS for 15 yrs. In spite of ample evidence of the structural discrimination within esp the higher echelons, I have always had faith in our NHS. The utter disdain clear in the appointment of Trevor Phillips by @PHE_UK is a new low.”

COMMENTATORS

Background information on the definition of Islamophobia by Dr Chris Allen.

The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that 35% of 2,000-plus patients were non-white.