Tory MP ignites racism row as he blames BAME communities for Covid-19 surge

Lawmaker Craig Whittaker said BAME communities were "just not taking the pandemic seriously"(Photo: Twitter).
Lawmaker Craig Whittaker said BAME communities were "just not taking the pandemic seriously"(Photo: Twitter).

A TORY MP has come under fire for blaming black, Asian, minority ethnic communities for a surge in coronavirus cases.

Craig Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley, recently told LBC radio that “sections of our community” were “just not taking the pandemic seriously”.

Asked if he was referring to the Muslim community, he replied: “Of course.

If you look at the areas where we have 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.”

The MP said he had been “challenging” local leaders “asking what we are doing to target these areas to let people know that this is a very serious problem”.

“Until people take it seriously, we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic,” he said.

Even as critics blasted the comments, Whittaker went on to defend them in an interview to the BBC.

“Because I am white do I not say these things? I am not going to just be quiet because some people don’t like what I have said,” he said.

Charlotte Nicholas, Labour MP for Warrington North, said: “This is just racism, pure and simple, and is not borne out by the evidence.”

Labour MP for Halifax, Holly Lynch, said Whittaker’s observations were “simply not true”.

“I speak to my local BAME community every day. We are all looking at packed beaches, mass football celebrations and excessive drinking on nights out with despair,” she said.

“In Trafford, for example, the latest outbreak appears to have started in Hale, which is one of the least diverse parts of the borough. Classic Tory divide and rule.”

Iman Atta OBE, direct of anti-racism hotline Tell MAMA, said Whittaker’s singling out of a community was “wholly wrong, stigmatising, and unbecoming of an MP”.

“We call on Craig Whittaker MP to apologise and withdrawn his remarks, and for the Conservative Party to investigate his comments,” he said.

Former Conservative Party chairwoman Baroness Warsi, who was the UK’s first Muslim cabinet minister, termed attempts to pin the blame on a particular community as “divisive nonsense”.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Whittaker’s insinuation was “shameless scapegoating of minorities”.

“It is utterly unacceptable and Mr Whittaker should apologise,” said a spokesperson.

“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.”

Shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “take action” against Whittaker, saying it was “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”.

Johnson, however, evaded a direct response when asked about the issue at a Downing Street news conference.

“I want to thank all the community leaders… I want to thank the mosques and the imams who have worked hard with us to get message across,” he said.

“But ultimately it is up to the whole country to get this right and do it together.”