Britain’s main opposition party and an anti-racism charity have criticised the government’s proposal to set up a commission to examine racial inequalities, stressing that multiple reviews have already been conducted.
Prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled his plan to set up a cross-government commission into racial inequality in an article published on Sunday in The Telegraph newspaper.
Johnson’s article focused primarily on the issues of statues, and in particular that of former prime minister Winston Churchill, which have been targeted by anti-racism protesters in recent days.
Protests sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd, who died while in police custody last month in Minneapolis, have spread to Europe where debate has flared around statues and monuments.
“It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism. There is much more that we need to do; and we will,” Johnson wrote.
“We need to tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols. We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past — and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view.
“It does nothing for BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] people to go around mutilating statues, or campaigning against this or that cultural relic. There are far greater and more important battles,” he added.
The main Labour opposition party has called on the government to “acknowledge and act on the racial injustices” and to “deliver a race equality strategy that sets out plans to reduce the structural inequalities and institutional racism faced by ethnic minorities in Britain.”
Labour MP David Lammy, who conducted an 18-month review in 2017 on the treatment of, and outcomes for BAME individuals in the criminal justice, has also criticised Johnson’s proposal.
He stressed that four reviews – including his own – delving into the Windrush scandal, issues affecting BAME people in the workplace, and deaths and serious incidents in police custody were released in 2017, producing a combined 201 recommendations.
“Implement them,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “the time for review is over, the time for action is now.”
He also said that “it feels like we’re going round in circles.”
“If he [Boris Johnson] were serious, why are there no details about how it will be staffed? Its remit?Its terms of reference? Its timetable? That’s the question,” he told BBC radio.
Dr Zubaida Haque, Interim Director fo the Runnymede Trust, an independent race equality thinktank, has also criticised the prime minister’s announcement and called for “more action and less rhetoric.”
“If the robust data on racial inequalities across all aspects of life on the government’s own website (Ethnicity facts and figures) and from their own reviews (e.g Timpson’s review on school exclusions) is not sufficient evidence of racial inequalities, then what is?” she wrote on Twitter.
“It’s as though we’re experiencing groundhog day with review after review on racial inequalities — with no implementation of recommendations to address systemic racism and discrimination in policies and structures,” she added.
Euronews has contacted Britain’s Cabinet Office for more details on the commission.