Appointing New U.K. Equalities Commissioner 'Undermines Racial Equality'

The U.K.'s equalities watchdog has appointed someone who undermines efforts to tackle racism, The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) say.

David Goodhart is a journalist and author who currently heads the immigration and integration unit at the think tank Policy Exchange and has been appointed as a commissioner to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Both organizations also accused the government of political interference and undermining the impartiality of the EHRC. The Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss announced the appointment of Goodhart as a commissioner on the EHRC alongside three other commissioners.

Goodhart has been criticized over past comments which critics say shows his support for the governments 'hostile environment policy', a set of legislative measures bought in under former Prime Minister Theresa May, the aim of which was to make staying in the U.K. as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain.

The policy has been criticized as inhumane and led to the Windrush scandal in which people were wrongly detained and deported, including British-born subjects who had arrived the country before 1973 from Caribbean countries.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper in 2018, Goodhart described the Windrush scandal, as "an error of over-zealous control" which "must not lead to a radical watering-down of the so-called 'hostile environment'."

The EHRC is the U.K.'s equalities body and has been awarded an 'A' status as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) by the United Nations. It is responsible for enforcing equality laws in the country and has a unique set of legal powers that allow it to do so.

It recently produced a report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party, finding that the party had been responsible for "unlawful" harassment and discrimination during Jeremy Corbyn's four-and-a-half years as leader.

The IRR told Newsweek: "The IRR is concerned that the appointment of David Goodhart as a Commissioner to the EHRC could be a prelude to a new assault on equality laws and anti-discrimination legislation in this country.

"The appointment of a man who warns of the threat to welfare systems posed by 'stranger citizens', opines about too much diversity and the failure to understand majority grievances, is the latest in this government's multi-pronged attack on organizations and initiatives seeking to combat structural racism."

David Goodhart
The appointment of David Goodhart has been criticised by the Muslim Council of Britain and the Institution of Race Relations Getty

After the controversy around "hostile environment policies", The EHRC launched an investigation into its impact on the Windrush generation and their descendants, which is still ongoing.

"The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values," then EHRC chair David Isaac said at the time of the investigation. "We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated."

Goodhart has also been described as unsuitable for the role of commissioner by the MCB, which has asked the EHRC to investigate the Conservative Party over Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.

In 2019 writing for the Unherd website, Goodhart wrote that the Conservative Party had "allowed itself to be painted as having an Islamophobia problem on the basis of a few prejudiced statements by local activists and councilors and an unscrupulous campaign against [Mayor of London] Sadiq Khan."

The MCB believes that there is widespread Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, something the party denies.

An MCB spokesperson told Newsweek: "Goodhart has also gone on record to deny the existence of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party - an institutional problem that is widely documented - and which the EHRC has a duty to investigate. The EHRC is yet to make a decision on whether or not it will investigate the party over its structural problem with Islamophobia, and if it does, Goodhart must not be involved in any part of the inquiry.

"The EHRC was established to expose and address racism and inequality. Instead, the appointment of Goodhart, who denies the existence of structural racism in politics and the Windrush scandal and promotes White self-interest theories as a priority, undermines the very remit of the organization. This appointment sets a problematic precedent, showing the reluctant, if not the willful negligence, of the Government to address racism within British society."

A recent poll by Hope not Hate found that 57 percent of Conservative Party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims.* The MCB and IRR also accused the government of political interference in a body that prides itself on its impartiality.

The IRR said: "The irony today is that the very institutions that are meant to protect BME [Black, Minority Ethnic] communities from systemic racism, are now packed with political appointees who uphold a 'common sense' that either redefines institutional racism as failure to combat 'extremist' attitudes or denies that it exists at all."

The MCB questioned whether the government was serious about tackling racism.

"If the government is serious about tackling racism and discrimination, then it would appoint credible figures known for fighting and experiencing racism. We do not think Mr. Goodhart has either of these characteristics. His selection follows a long line of government appointment of individuals who either oppose or are skeptical of anti-racism efforts."

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said that commissioners had been chosen in a fair process. A GEO spokesperson said: "The new EHRC commissioners were chosen as part of a fair and open competition, and each of them brings an expert knowledge base to the role. We are confident that they will help the EHRC carry out its important work of upholding and advancing equality and human rights at this vital time for the United Kingdom."

David Goodhart has not responded to Newsweek's request for comment.

*Study methodology and notes