A Tory MP has sparked a backlash after claiming the “vast majority” of people breaking lockdown rules are from the BAME community.
Craig Whittaker was condemned by Labour today and faced calls to apologise after he moaned “sections of our community” are not taking Covid-19 “seriously”.
When asked if he was talking about the Muslim community, the Tory MP told LBC: “Of course.
“And if you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases, the vast majority, not by any stretch of the imagination all areas, but it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”
Told the comments could earn him a lot of criticism, and asked if he was ready for a backlash, he said: “Absolutely.
“I’ve been challenging our local leaders now for… three weeks asking what are we doing to target these areas, to let people know this is still a very serious problem.”
Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha De Cordova branded the comments “disgraceful and overt racism”.
She said Mr Whittaker was “blaming Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, the very people whose lives and livelihoods have been the worst hit by Covid-19.”
The latest Public Health England surveillance data, published today, shows 37% of all those who tested positive for coronavirus in the week to July 26 were of an “Asian or Asian British” ethnic background.
By comparison, 53% of those who tested positive that week in England were white, 5% were “black, African, Caribbean or black British” and 6% were of mixed ethnicity or from other ethnic groups.
Challenged by the PA news agency, the Calder Valley MP said he was talking specifically about the situation in his constituency.
He said it was particularly in three wards in Halifax where there was a high proportion of Asian residents, or houses of multiple occupancy.
He added: “We have come from a situation where the infection rate was very low and we have seen spikes in those areas, but not exclusively to those areas.”
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.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth branded the comments “disgraceful”.
Mr Ashworth told Times Radio: “To be frank, the Tory Party should do something about it because it is quite disgraceful, what he was saying.”
Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, tweeted: “This racist rhetoric is based on prejudice, not facts.
“It serves to pander to the far right contingent in the Tory Party who’ll look to blame anyone but their own Govt.
“It’s racially charged scapegoating designed to fuel the far right, don’t buy into it.”
Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for neighbouring Huddersfield, said: “It’s got nothing to do with religion, I have seen naughty people breaking the rules of every creed, race and religion.”
Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, added: “That is a very disappointing comment for someone who is an elected member of parliament, particularly as the BAME community has paid the biggest price.
“It is not helpful.”
Boris Johnson was asked at a No10 press conference if he agreed with Mr Whittaker’s comments – but avoided answering directly.
Instead the PM said: “I think it’s up to all of us in Government to make sure that the message is being heard loud and clear by everybody across the country, and to make sure that everybody is complying with the guidance.”
New restrictions were brought in overnight in Greater Manchester, and parts of West Yorkshire and Lancashire, to stop multiple households meeting indoors.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the change was made because people were meeting indoors and spreading the virus.
But he denied it was triggered by Eid, the Muslim festival which begins today.
Mr Hancock told the BBC: “My heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are.
“I’m very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, the imams in fact, across the country who’ve been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations.
“For instance celebrating Eid in parks where there’s more space available and of course outdoors is safer than indoors.”