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Liz Truss Has Been Accused Of "Gross Negligence" Over A Controversial Appointment To The Equalities Watchdog

The equalities minister Liz Truss has been urged to rescind the appointment of a new commissioner to the EHRC (PA)

4 min read

Liz Truss is being urged to “rescind the appointment” of a commissioner to the UK’s equalities watchdog after he called complaints of systemic racism "statistically naive”.

The equalities minister was accused of “at best gross negligence” by the Liberal Democrats after selecting the journalist and think tank boss David Goodhart to sit on the board of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The party’s equalities spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, said his views on immigration and racial justice “make him unfit to serve” in the role, and has written to Ms Truss calling on her to retract the offer to him.

It comes after Mr Goodhart wrote during the protests this summer by the Black Lives Matter movement that complaints of systemic racism in the UK were "statistically naive”.

In a piece for the Unherd website entitled ‘Facts vs feelings in the BLM debate’, he said: “The over-representation of black people in prison, at 12% of the total, should not be looked at in relation to the total black population but rather to those involved in serious crime.”

And campaigners are unhappy with a column he wrote in 2018 describing 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".

Ms Hobhouse told PoliticsHome: “The Black Lives Matter movement and the appalling Windrush Scandal have demonstrated that urgent action is needed to end institutional racism and the hostile environment.

"This government have time and again failed to take the fight to make the UK a more equal and fairer place seriously. This appointment is either at best gross negligence, or at worst a direct move to undermine that fight.

"On human rights, immigration and racial justice, David Goodhart's views make him unfit to serve on the EHRC.

"If this government truly want to tackle racial inequality in this country then Liz Truss must retract David Goodhart's appointment and engage properly with representatives of minority communities to select someone who can be trusted to uphold the vital purpose of the EHRC."

In her letter to Ms Truss the Lib Dem MP said he “has a long record of public statements that are incompatible” with the EHRC’s statutory duties, after the minister welcomed him to the role in an announcement last week.

A statement from the government last week said Mr Goodhart had been appointed to the EHRC’s board for a period of four years, alongside three other new commissioners.

It said they will “have an important role to play in assisting the EHRC fulfil its role as the country’s expert body on equality and human rights issues”.

Ms Truss hailed it as “a positive step forward for equality in this country”, adding: “Their combined expertise and experience 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.”

But race campaigners have criticised the move, with a spokesperson for the Institute of Race Relations saying: "If there was any previous doubt, the appointment of David Goodhart as an EHRC commissioner, a man who has in the past attacked diversity and opined about the need to understand 'majority grievances,' suggests the very real danger of an end to a progressive equalities agenda in this country.”

And Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said she was “extremely concerned” by his appointment.

“At a particularly sensitive moment in our nation’s social history, Mr Goodhart’s moments around the government’s hostile environment immigration policy and Black Lives Matter offer no reassurance of his empathy, understanding or impartiality on the issue of racial equality.”

In response a spokesman for the government’s Equality Hub 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.”

They also said the appointments were conducted in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said commissioner appointments are “a matter for government”.

A spokesperson for Ms Truss has been contacted for comment, and Mr Goodhart said in a statement to the Guardian: “I am a journalist and before being appointed an EHRC commissioner I did write about the Windrush Scandal and always described it as a shameful episode. 

“This was not the so-called ‘hostile environment’ working, it was an egregious error. The real question is how we make status-checking fair, given that people who don’t look or sound like the majority will potentially be discriminated against. 

“I look forward to contributing to the debate about how we create such a fair and transparent system.”

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