Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

Boris Johnson faces backlash over new UK inequalities chief who played down scale of racial problems

Munira Mirza had once called institutional racism ‘a myth’ and rejected previous UK race report

UK government's head of policy, Munira Mirza, is set to lead the UK's new race commission review despite her criticism of previous reports. Mary Turner/Getty Images
UK government's head of policy, Munira Mirza, is set to lead the UK's new race commission review despite her criticism of previous reports. Mary Turner/Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s new race commission is facing a growing backlash after he appointed an inequalities chief who earlier described institutional racism as a "perception".

Munira Mirza, head of the UK government's policy unit, has been given the job of setting up a racism review after two weeks of nationwide protests by Black Lives Matters activists, since the death of African-American man George Floyd in the US.

Mr Johnson has been accused of creating the commission as a knee-jerk reaction to try to calm widespread unrest in Britain, which led to statues being torn down.

But his choice of Ms Mirza has sparked controversy after she dismissed an earlier race report and dismissed claims of institutional racism within Mr Johnson’s Conservatives.

David Lammy, who wrote the UK’s 2017 race report, said Ms Mirza went “out of her way” to attack it and that her appointment “further undermines” the new race commission.

"Boris Johnson needs to stop the dither and delay," Mr Lammy tweeted. "We don’t need yet another review, we need action.

"Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, the country is crying out for action."

Ms Mirza, who was also a deputy mayor during Mr Johnson’s time in charge of London, rejected Mr Lammy’s review.

The Institute for Race Relations think tank raised concerns that having Ms Mirza at the helm would destroy all confidence in the report.

"Any inquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors," it said.

"Munira Mirza's previous comments describes a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is 'a perception more than a reality’.

“It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.”

Ms Mirza also opposed former prime minister Theresa May's Racial Disparities Audit, describing it as an example of how “anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum”.

She said that for Mrs May “to claim that we have a serious problem with racism really would be a burning injustice”.

Concerns have also been raised over Ms Mirza's rumoured decision to give a role to Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Mr Phillips courted controversy in the past when he referred to UK Muslims as “a nation within a nation”.

He played a role in the recent inquiry into the effects of the coronavirus on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The new government body has been heavily criticised by opposition members.

“A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival," said Labour politician Diane Abbott, who was elected as the UK's first female black MP.

"She has never believed in institutional racism.”

Ms Abbott's comments were backed by the Labour MP and former equalities minister, Dawn Butler.

"The only review needed is into all the past consultations and reviews, as well as their failure to implement over 200 prior recommendations,” Ms Butler said.

"I am tired of fighting the government on this issue."

Mr Johnson defended his decision on Monday.

"The whole point of having a review is to look at the areas where people feel there's more that needs to be done," he said.

"I think what we want to do is learn now very fast what fresh changes we need to make."

Updated: June 17, 2020 02:47 AM

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