By Grahame Anderson

Public Health England’s appointment of Trevor Phillips OBE to contribute to the review into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people from BAME backgrounds has been fiercely criticised.

Shameful and alarming, are just two of the words BAME leaders have used in response to the decision given Mr Phillips’ recent suspension from the Labour Party over both Islamophobia allegations and previous alleged offensive comments on race.

The Background

The former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is facing a Labour investigation over remarks going back several years. They include saying it was ‘nonsense’ to define being anti-Islam as racist as Muslims do not identify as a race.

Mr Phillips was suspended by Party Secretary Jennie Formby who cited it was a matter of urgency to “protect Labour’s reputation”. It was delivered in an 11 page letter.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi claimed on Twitter Mr Phillips’ appointment by Public Health England, ‘undermines the integrity and credibility of the review’.

In a letter to PHE’s chief executive Duncan Selbie, she said she was ‘shocked and troubled’ to learn Mr Phillips had been asked to join the inquiry despite the allegations against him.

Labour MP for Bradford West Naz Shah, tweeted: “It’s an insult to the memory of the numerous Muslims who have lost their lives, and also an insult to those Muslims who continue to serve on the frontline.”

Measured Reaction

Responding to the criticism around his appointment, Mr Phillips told the Huffington Post: “Everyone should be contributing anything they can to tackling this crisis.

“Anyone can see the research Richard and I have already done on our website, which explains why we’ve been asked to help.”

PHE had previously said Professor Richard Webber, who runs the specialist research and insight consultancy firm Webber Phillips with Mr Phillips, had also agreed to provide support to the inquiry.

Mr Phillips added: “We’re delighted to put our team – which together has more than a hundred years experience in this field – and our technology at the disposal of PHE to help it solve the puzzle of who is most vulnerable and why.”

Founded in 2014 Webber Phillips is a specialist research and insight consultancy working with business and not-for-profit leaders, who want to serve citizens, consumers and colleagues better.

Muslim Council Concerns

Despite Mr Phillips claiming he is anti-racist, the clearly controversial appointment will do little to win the hearts and minds of BAME communities across the UK at this very sensitive time.

It prompted The Muslim Council Of Britain’s General Secretary, Harun Khan to issue a statement in which he says: “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. The decision is particularly insensitive given that British Muslims overwhelmingly come from BAME communities and so many Muslim doctors have died at the front line of this pandemic.”

He ends the statement by adding: “The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME communities is a serious issue which has seen many Muslims lose loved ones. 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.”

Radio Interview

In an interview with Talk Radio’s Julia Hartley Brewer Mr Phillips advised anyone in the public domain to think before they speak on the issue. The former television presenter told her, people should not jump to conclusions following claims ethnic minorities are unduly affected by coronavirus. “There are a lot of mysteries here that we do not understand,” he said. “We can’t give an explanation right now.”

PHE Response

“Trevor Phillips and Prof Richard Webber have been asked to support this critical work as their specialist consultancy has the right skills and experience,” says Prof Kevin Fenton, PHE’s regional director, London. “We need to move fast to understand why and what can be done about this.”

Asian Sunday will be following the review closely as it moves forward asking the right questions on your behalf.