Dismay as Downing Street adviser is chosen to set up UK race inequality commission

Munira Mirza has doubted existence of institutional racism and criticised ‘culture of grievance’

 People wearing face masks hold up placards during a Black Lives Matter rally in Millennium Square  in Leeds, England. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

People wearing face masks hold up placards during a Black Lives Matter rally in Millennium Square in Leeds, England. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

 

The new British government commission on racial inequalities is being set up by a Downing Street adviser who has cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism and condemned previous inquiries for fostering a “culture of grievance”, it has emerged.

Munira Mirza, the head of the No 10 policy unit, is leading much of the work to form the commission on race and ethnic disparities announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday after the global wave of Black Lives Matter protests.

It is understood that Mirza has said she hopes to recruit Trevor Phillips as part of the commission. Phillips, a former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, would be a controversial choice, having previously referred to UK Muslims as being “a nation within a nation”.

When Phillips was named as playing a role in a Public Health England inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, it prompted condemnation from campaigners.

The revelation of Mirza’s role was met with dismay from experts and MPs. The shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, whose own review on inequalities in the judicial system was criticised by Mirza, tweeted on Monday evening that the appointment “further undermines” Johnson’s race commission.

The Labour MP added: “My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May. But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it. Johnson isn’t listening to #BlackLivesMatter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.”

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The Institute of Race Relations thinktank said it would be hard to have confidence in the commission’s outcomes.

“Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors. Munira Mirza’s previous comments describe a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is ‘a perception more than a reality’,” a spokesperson said.

“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.”

The Labour MP Diane Abbott, a former shadow home secretary, said: “A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism.”

The government commission, which was revealed in a Daily Telegraph column by Johnson, was also condemned by Labour as overly vague, “written on the back of a fag packet” and adding delay rather than urgency.

Mirza, who is also understood to be leading efforts to recruit commission members, has been an outspoken critic of previous government attempts to tackle structural factors behind racial inequality.

She condemned an audit of racial inequalities in public services commissioned by Theresa May, which No 10 say will form part of the basis of the new commission. Writing for the Spectator in 2017, Mirza said the audit showed how “anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum”.

In the same article, Mirza criticised two other reports which Johnson’s government has promised to act on: the one written by Lammy when he was a backbencher, and another on unequal pay among ethnic groups. Mirza said both showed “wrongheaded thinking about race”.

Dawn Butler, a Labour MP and former equalities minister, said Mirza’s role “undermines its credibility from the very outset by appointing someone who stands by Johnson’s racist comments, rejected the Lammy review, saying ‘institutional racism’ is ‘a perception more than a reality’, and opposed Theresa May’s very own racial disparities audit. – Guardian