Govt faces legal action over appointment of racism skeptic to head racism inquiry

Head of the Race and Ethnic Disparity Commission, Tony Sewell, described the Black Lives Matter Protests as "navel gazing".

14 Aug 2020| News

The government is facing legal action over its choice to apppoint a known skeptic of institutional racism to head its racism inquiry.

Tony Sewell has been asked to lead the Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission, which was set up to respond to this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, despite having described those very protests as self-indulgent in a recent piece for the Telegraph.

His is the second controversial appointment to the group, after another institutional racism skeptic – Munira Mirza – was chosen to recruit the inquiry’s panel.

Anti-racism organisation, The Monitoring Group, delivered a pre-action letter on Monday (10 August 2020), notifying the government of its intention to launch a judicial review into Sewell’s appointment, arguing that it shows an unlawful lack of regard to eliminating discrimination.

On 08 June 2020, Sewell wrote about the Black Lives Matter protests in The Telegraph, saying: “Navel gazing identity politics won’t help the black youth.”

The Monitoring Group point out other instances of his skepticism, including an interview with Talk Radio on 12 June 2020, in which he said concerns of institutional racism in the police force are “becoming completely irrational” and that Black Lives Matter protestors were gripped in “a bandwagon mentality”.

The organisation also detailed instances in which Sewell dismissed the government’s 2017 race disparity audit, writing in the Sun in 2017 that the statistics are being “misused in a way which casts minorities as victims of racism and white privilege”.

He has also been forced to apologise for making homophobic comments about footballer Justin Fashanu prior to his death from suicide.

In its pre-action letter, the Monitoring Group states that Sewell’s “longstanding record of public statements rejecting or minimising the overwhelming evidence that already exists about issues such as institutional racism … are incompatible with his appointment as the chair of an independent commission”.

“We have thought hard about this challenge; it is not a decision that has been taken lightly,” Director of the Monitoring Group, Suresh Grover, said.

“In the end, we cannot allow the struggles and gains that have been made on race relations in the UK to be undermined, diminished or eradicated.”

Acting lawyer for the Group, Chez Cotton, of Matthew Gold & Co, argued: “There is a clear public interest in making sure that whatever its substance, the prime minister has acted lawfully in making it.”

The Monitoring Group has set up a crowdfunder to raise money towards a judicial review.