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Labour under fire for reportedly lifting suspension of Trevor Phillips

16th Jul 2021
Labour under fire for reportedly lifting suspension  of Trevor Phillips

Trevor Phillips (Credit: Stephan Röhl/Boell)

Hamed Chapman

Labour has been accused of breaching its own regulations after reportedly lifting the membership suspension of Trevor Phillips, the current deputising host of Sky News’ Sunday political show, without the issue going to the party’s governing body and without even an apology being issued.

“Since David Evans took over as general secretary (in May 2020), the standard practice has been to suspend first, ask questions later. Usually, these suspensions continue until they finally come before a NEC panel,” said Labour’s National Executive Council member Mish Rahman.

“In this instance, Trevor Phillips seems to have been offered preferential treatment – hopefully not due to his employment as a presenter on Sky News,” Rachman was quoted saying to the LabourList news website.

“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,” the Constituency Labour Parties (CLP) member said.

Phillips was suspended from the party last year pending an investigation of Islamophobia claims made against him. Among other insults, he has accused Muslims of seeing the world “differently from the rest of us” and of being a “nation within a nation.”

Labour MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana said Phillips, a former Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has made a “string of deeply Islamophobic statements” and that before readmittance, the party must “at the very least require a full retraction and apology.”

“Those remarks are racist and should be unequivocally condemned,” she said. “Anything less makes a mockery of the idea that the party takes Islamophobia seriously and signals contempt for our Muslim supporters.”

Her colleague Apsana Begum, who has previously accused Labour of being “in denial” about the problem of Islamophobia, said that “his silent readmission to the Labour Party without even as much as an explanation or apology is an insult to my community” in the London constituency of Poplar and Limehouse. “To fellow Muslims – solidarity, I stand with you on another dark day.”

LabourList, which describes itself as the party’s ‘biggest independent grassroots e-network,’ also quoted a spokesperson for the Labour Muslim Network saying that the party was “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 acknowledgement, will only cause further anxiety and hurt among Muslims,” the spokesperson said.

Another NEC member on the party’s left, but this time unnamed, 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.

The apparent premature lifting of the suspension of Phillips was first reported by The Guardian on July 4, saying that it had been quietly done without the matter having gone to a National Executive Committee at least three weeks earlier.

In May, Phillips, who is a constituent of Sir Kier Starmer, took over as host of Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky while the presenter is on maternity leave, but there have been no suggestions of the reinstatement being linked.

In a statement requested by The Muslim News, Labour declined to confirm or deny that the suspension of the former EHRC chair had been lifted, but did not rule out that it could be reinstalled again.

“We cannot comment on ongoing individual cases because our disciplinary procedures are confidential, and we must uphold our legal responsibilities for data protection. Nor do we provide a running commentary on them but, as a steer, for your information, this investigation is ongoing, and we are continuing to follow our procedures, and a report will be brought to the relevant NEC committee in the usual way in due course,” the statement

“Our procedures allow for a review of administrative suspensions and, it would be untrue to claim doing this was in breach of our rules or processes, as they do not require a decision like this to be made by a NEC panel. If a suspension is lifted, but an investigation continues, it would not preclude us from reinstating the suspension or investigating any other alleged breaches of our rules, if required,” it added.

According to LabourList, a paper agreed by the Labour NEC in 2019 states: “Except in cases of mistaken identity, only the NEC can choose to lift a suspension and issue a warning” but that this refers to concluding disciplinary action. 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.,” it pointed out.

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