Racism inquiry: Boris Johnson sparks anger with BAME ‘victimisation’ comment

Campaigners welcome race commission launch announcement - but criticise PM’s ‘condescending’ language

boris johnson
Boris Johnson visits Westfield Stratford ahead of non-essential shops reopening to the public today
(Image credit: John Nguyen/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has prompted both applause and criticism by announcing a new government inquiry into racial inequalities that he says is aimed at ending “the sense of victimisation” felt by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

Responding to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in countries worldwide, the prime minister said that “a cross-governmental commission” was being launched to look into discrimination against BAME people in the UK criminal justice system, education and health, reports The Guardian.

Revealing the plan in an opinion piece in The Telegraph, Johnson wrote: “No one who cares about this country can ignore the many thousands of people who have joined the Black Lives Matter movement to protest peacefully, as most of them have, in the last few days.

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“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.”

But while rights groups have welcomed the move, Johnson provoked anger with separate, pre-recorded comments about the new commission in which he said: “What I really want to do as prime minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination.”

Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova described the comment as “condescending”.

“That the prime minister now says he wants to ‘change the narrative… so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination’ is condescending and designed to let himself and his government off the hook,” de Cordova said.

Simon Woolley, chair of the government’s Race Disparity Unit, said that he was “pleased that our PM has clearly acknowledged the deep-seated and persistent racial inequality in education, health and the criminal justice system”.

However, “the use of the word victimisation is an unnecessary distraction and to some will be seen as unhelpful”, Woolley added.

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The commission will report directly to Johnson and will be overseen by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, according to The Telegraph. An independent chair will lead the commission, which will comprise people from “a mix of ethnic, social and professional backgrounds”, a source told the newspaper.

Johnson’s commission plan comes almost three years after his predecessor Theresa May published the findings of the government’s “Race Disparity Audit”, PoliticsHome notes.

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