A Conservative MP has prompted widespread condemnation after saying the “vast majority” of those breaking lockdown rules are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, while providing no evidence to support his claims.
Craig Whittaker suggested BAME people – particularly Muslims – were “not taking [the coronavirus pandemic] seriously enough”.
The comments were widely criticised, with Labour describing them as “disgraceful and overt racism” and calling for him to apologise.
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.
Boris Johnson must condemn this comment and take action. https://t.co/alC1H2QWLz
— I Can’t Breathe…Marsha de Cordova MP (@MarshadeCordova) July 31, 2020
The MP for the Calder Valley, one of the areas of northern England affected by newly imposed COVID-19 restrictions, made the comments during a call with LBC radio show host Ian Payne.
“What I have seen in my constituency is that we have… sections of the community that are just not taking the pandemic seriously,” he said.
Asked to confirm that he was referring to the Muslim community, Mr Whittaker responded: “Of course.
“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 – it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.
“I’ve been challenging our local leaders for… three weeks, asking what we are doing to target these areas to let people know that this is still a very serious problem. Until people take it seriously, we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic.”
He added: “It’s not just the Asian community, of course.
“We have areas of high multiple occupancy – when you have multiple families living in one household. That just doesn’t specifically have to be in the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion.
“Look at all the areas. You’ve got Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees. Bradford and Kirklees have two of the largest populations in West Yorkshire.”
Payne then sought to clarify the MP’s comments again, asking: “So we’re talking immigrant communities, are we?”
Mr Whittaker responded: “We are. Immigrant and Asian population.”
Critics suggested many of those areas of the UK with the highest rates of infection had predominantly white populations.
Others responded on social media by posting images of crowds of people, many apparently failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, on beaches and outside pubs and bars.
Boris Johnson opted not to distance himself from the remarks when asked if he agreed with Mr Whittaker during a Downing Street briefing.
“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,” he said.
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, Marsha de Cordova, called on the prime minister to “take action” over the comments.
“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,” she said.
“Boris Johnson must condemn this comment and take action.”
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 apologise without delay. https://t.co/3QdR7v9d6R
— Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (@NickTorfaen) July 31, 2020
Shadow home secretary and Labour MP 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 apologise without delay.”
The Muslim Council of Britain said the comments were a “shameless scapegoating of minorities”.
“It is utterly unacceptable and Mr Whittaker should apologise,” the group said in a statement.
“Mosques and Muslim institutions have gone above and beyond to ensure social distancing rules are observed and initiated unprecedented education campaigns to ensure they are upheld by families.
“It’s one thing to discuss health inequalities and challenges with intergenerational households and occupational hazards – and these factors being prevalent in certain groups.
“It’s quite another to make baseless allegations claiming certain groups aren’t taking the pandemic seriously, especially when these claims are contradicted by a local Director of Public Health.”
Mr Whittaker has been approached by Sky News for comment.
But he later told the Press Association: “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.”