LONDON: A British MP is facing demands for an apology after he blamed a spike in coronavirus cases in the UK on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
Craig Whittaker, the Conservative member of parliament for Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, in the north of England, suggested the “vast majority” of people from these groups, and in particular Muslims, are “not taking (coronavirus) seriously enough.” He did not provide any evidence to back up his claims.
His comments drew heavy criticism, with the opposition Labour Party calling on him to apologize for the “disgraceful” and overtly racist comments, Sky News reported.
Whittaker, whose constituency is one of those affected by a targeted lockdown announced by the UK government on Thursday night, was speaking during an interview on radio station LBC.
“What I have seen in my constituency is that we have … sections of the community that are just not taking the pandemic seriously,” he told host Ian Payne.
When pressed to clarify whether he was referring specifically to the Muslim community, he 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 asked Whittaker: “So we’re talking immigrant communities, are we?” to which Whittaker replied: “We are. Immigrant and Asian population.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson was under pressure yesterday to take action over the comments.
Marsha de Cordova, the Labour Party’s shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “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.”
However, when Johnson was asked whether he agreed with Whittaker’s assertion, he 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.”
Critics refuted Whittaker’s claims, pointing out that the areas of the UK with the highest rates of infection are predominantly white.
The Muslim Council of Britain described the MP’s comments as a “shameless scapegoating of minorities.”
It added: “It is utterly unacceptable and Mr Whittaker should apologize. 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.”
Asked later whether he believed he was right to make his comments, Whittaker 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.
“What else could I say? The reality is, this pandemic has not gone away, we have seen spikes in these areas, something is happening.”