PM refuses to condemn MP who claimed ‘vast majority’ of lockdown breaches are by Muslim and BAME communities

28th Aug 2020
PM refuses to condemn MP who claimed ‘vast majority’ of lockdown breaches are by Muslim and BAME communities

Craig Whittaker MP (Credit: Richard Townshend/UK Parliament)

Nadine Osman

The UK Prime Minister has refused to address the widely condemned and disputed remarks by one of his backbenchers who claimed that the “vast majority” of people in breach of the Covid-19 lockdown rules are of the BAME communities.

Asked by journalists whether Boris Johnson agrees with Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker remarks, a spokesman for the PM merely reiterated the PM’s Eid message when PM said he was “hugely grateful to the Muslim community for their efforts and sacrifices throughout this pandemic” and reiterated the importance of ensuring “everybody is complying with the guidance.”

Neither the PM nor any member of the Government has neither criticised nor condemned the Conservative MP’s remarks.

In an interview with LBC Radio on July 31, Whittaker said there were “sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously.”
When asked if he was talking about Muslims, he said, “Of course.” He made the comments after lockdown measures were re-imposed in large parts of the North, including his West Yorkshire constituency.

“If you look at the areas where we have seen rises and cases, the vast majority — not by any stretch of the imagination all areas — it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough,” said Whittaker.

“I’ve been challenging our local leaders… asking what are we doing to target these areas, to let people know this is still a very serious problem. Until people take it seriously, we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic.”

Asked if he was right to state BAME people had not been taking the rules seriously enough, he replied, “What else could I say? The reality is, this pandemic has not gone away, we have seen spikes in these areas, something is happening. Social distancing has clearly not been adhered to.”

Tory peer Baroness Warsi called his comments “divisive nonsense” and Labour said they were “overtly racist.” However, critics were quick to point out photos of crowds of people, many of whom are white, failing to follow social distancing guidelines at pubs and on beaches. Others claimed areas with the highest rates of infection had predominately white populations.

According to the latest census data, Blackburn is nearly 70 per cent white, compared to 77 per cent in Oldham. Whittaker has since said he was talking specifically about the situation in his constituency, particularly in three wards in Halifax where there was a high proportion of Asian residents or houses of multiple occupancies.

Census data suggests the population of the borough of Calderdale, in which Whittaker resides, is 89.7 per cent white, 8.3 per cent Asian and 0.4 per cent black.

In Greater Manchester, Eleanor Roaf, the Director of Public Health in Trafford, said 80 per cent of Trafford’s infections in the last week of July is in the white community. A major incident was declared in Greater Manchester after a rise in new cases across ‘multiple localities.’ She told the Guardian,

“We are continuing to see more cases than we would like and what’s worrying is our positivity rate is going up. That is the number of people per hundred that test positive. What you want to try to do is keep that to about 1 per cent. We are at three per cent at the moment. The Trafford narrative is that it is a very white outbreak in Trafford.

In other places, the narrative is quite different. One of the anxieties is that we don’t end up with a complacent white middle class thinking it’s not affecting them because they think it’s about overcrowding in ethnic minority families.”

Eighty-one people tested positive in Trafford — the third biggest number in Greater Manchester, after Manchester (178) and Oldham (130). Ninety-two per cent of cases had ethnicity recorded and of those 80 per cent were white.

The Muslim Council of Britain called Whittaker’s “utterly unacceptable” remarks, “shameless scapegoating of minorities.”

The Labour Party’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, Marsha de Cordova, urged the PM to “take action” over the remarks. She added, “Disgraceful and overt racism from this Tory MP blaming Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, the very people whose lives and livelihoods have been the worst hit by Covid-19.”

Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, added, “This is incredibly poorly judged, divisive and hurtful from a Conservative MP. “People from all communities have made extraordinary sacrifices in this crisis, and the higher death rates in some communities have been heartbreaking. He should apologize without delay.”

Public Health England data showed 1,369 of the positive cases in England (37 per cent) were among the UK’s Asian population. White people made up 1,976 cases (53 per cent), while Black, African, Caribbean and Black British people made 5 per cent.

A review by the body said the relationship between ethnicity, and the disease is “complex” and likely to be the result of a “combination of factors” including socioeconomic issues. It said people in BAME communities are at greater risk of catching Covid-19 because they are more likely to live in urban and deprived areas, live in overcrowded households and have jobs that leave them more exposed.

Islamophobia must be rooted out in all forms

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