Boris Johnson had a “problem” in responding to a controversial report on race due to his “bad track record on the issue”, one of its lead authors has claimed.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities released its conclusions back in 2021 after reviewing racial disparities in Britain following the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement.
But the report came in for criticism for claiming the UK “no longer” had a system rigged against minorities, with campaigners saying it ignored the concerns of people from black and ethnic minorities.
It took a year for the government to publish its official response, but it promised in March 2022 to “translate the findings from the commission’s report into concrete action”.
In an interview with The House magazine, the chair of the commission, Lord Sewell, continued to defend its findings, asking if its fiercest critics had read it in full.
However, he claimed Mr Johnson struggled with responding to the report at the time, telling him: “The race thing’s difficult for me.”
The former PM has come under fire for some of his previous remarks, including comparing women wearing burkhas to “letterboxes” and referring to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
“He can’t… deliver a nuanced argument about race given his track record,” Lord Sewell told the magazine.
Criticism has ‘tipped into misrepresentation’ commission says’
Ministers criticised for ‘unquestioning’ acceptance of controversial report
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said there had been a “misunderstanding”, and that he had an “excellent track record”, having commissioned the report himself.
“There was a suggestion that as PM, Mr Johnson should present the report himself,” the spokesman added. “He properly declined to do so as the report was independent of government.”
In the interview, Lord Sewell also revealed he wanted Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, to join the commission to prevent accusations of bias, but claimed it was blocked by party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
“What happened is that [Mr Lammy] wanted to do it,” said the peer. “He then went and spoke to Starmer. And then he said, ‘oh well because of the politics I can’t come on’.”
A Labour source called the claim “utter nonsense” and said Mr Lammy never intended to join the commission.
Lord Sewell also claimed the then-minister for equalities, Kemi Badenoch, “wasn’t that comfortable” with recommendations in the report that low-level Class B drug possession offences should be solved through public health solutions.
But he said she later accepted “she had to take an independent report and run with it”.