Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

CORONAVIRUS

British MP Craig Whittaker condemned after blaming Muslims and minorities for new coronavirus lockdown

Anti-racism campaigners want Tory politician to apologise and withdraw his comments

A mosque worker distributes face masks and checks the temperature of a man before Friday prayers in Manchester. EPA
A mosque worker distributes face masks and checks the temperature of a man before Friday prayers in Manchester. EPA

Politicians and anti-racism campaigners have reacted with disgust after a Conservative MP blamed immigrants, Muslims and ethnic minorities for a spike in Britain’s Covid cases.

Craig Whittaker told a radio talk-show that a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the virus by Muslim and ethnic members of his northern constituency were to blame.

The comments came after the British government imposed an emergency lockdown on four million people across much of the north of England.

The MP for the Calder Valley, in West Yorkshire, said the “vast majority” of people breaking social-distancing rules were from minority and Muslim communities.

"If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority - but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas - it is the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] communities that are not taking this seriously enough," Mr Whittaker told LBC radio.

The comments brought condemnations from many, including the Labour MP Charlotte Nicholas, who represents Warrington North.

“This is just racism, pure and simple, and is not borne out by the evidence,” said Ms Nicholas.

The anti-racism campaigner Iman Atta called on Mr Whittaker to apologise and withdraw his comments, and for the Conservative Party to investigate the incident.

“The deep disappointment many Muslims in the affected areas feel about not being able to visit families on Eid should be treated with empathy, not blame, as community safety is something Muslims have practised throughout the pandemic," Ms Atta told The Independent.

Holly Lynch, the Labour MP for Halifax, said Mr Whittaker’s claims were simply not true.

"I speak to my local BAME community every day,” Ms Lynch said. “We are all looking at packed beaches, mass football celebrations and excessive drinking on nights out with despair.”

During the interview with Ian Payne, the LBC radio host, Mr Whittaker was challenged on his remarks but remained unapologetic. “We have areas of high multiple occupancy - when you have multiple families living in one household,” he said. “It doesn’t specifically have to be in the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion.”

The former Tory and Change UK MP Anna Soubry branded the comments as “offensive, inaccurate twaddle”.

The new social-distancing measures in northern England, which has a high proportion of Muslim residents, were hastily imposed mere hours before Eid Al Adha.

Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, said the religious festival had not been deliberately targeted. In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hancock thanked the Muslim community for their cooperation in abiding by the stricter rules.

“My heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are,” he said.

Updated: August 1, 2020 05:54 PM

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