UK immigration ‘hostile environment’ supporter David Goodhart – a journalist and author who is currently head of the immigration and integration unit at right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange – has been appointed as commissioner of the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The move has been blasted by human rights campaigners.
Mr Goodhart’s nomination occurred on the same day that parliament’s human rights committee slammed the EHRC for being ‘under-resourced and ineffective’ in protecting the human rights of black people in the UK, according to a report published by The Independent.
Serious concerns raised by campaigners
Campaigners have reportedly raised ‘serious concerns’ about Mr Goodhart’s appointment, with questions asked about his level of ‘empathy, understanding and impartiality on the issue of racial equality. Campaigners argue that Goodhart’s appointment ‘demonstrates a reluctance among ministers to tackle racism in British society.
In the past, Mr Goodhart has expressed his support for the UK immigration ‘hostile environment’, introduced by Theresa May who was then Home Secretary. The ‘hostile environment policy was introduced in an effort to drive illegal immigrants out of the UK by making it harder for them to access employment, healthcare and housing.
The controversial policy has been blamed for the Windrush scandal in April 2018, which wrongly targeted hundreds of Commonwealth nationals, who had lived in Britain for decades, as illegal immigrants and denying them basic rights. Some caught up in the scandal were detained and removed from the UK.
UK’s border far more fit for purpose
In a Policy Exchange paper published in July 2018, Mr Goodhart claimed that other than the Windrush scandal, the UK’s border was ‘far more fit for purpose’ than it had been 10 years ago.
Around the same time, a report published by The Telegraph said that Mr Goodhart had 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 policy.’
A separate paper shows Goodhart referring to data showing an increase in voluntary removals from the UK between 2004 and 2016, highlighting it as evidence that the ‘hostile environment’ policy was working. However, the reliability of the data that Goodhart cited has been disputed because of the way it was recorded between 2004 and 2016.
Lack of empathy for Black Lives Matter movement
Mr Goodhart has been accused of showing a lack of empathy for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
In an article published by Unherd earlier this year, he claimed that it was ‘statistically naïve’ for campaigners involved in the BLM movement to refer to statistics on overrepresentation of black people in prison, deaths in custody and unemployment to highlight systemic racism in the UK.
Back in June, the EHRC launched an investigation into the impact of the UK immigration ‘hostile environment’ policy, which found that it had negative effects on the Windrush generation and their descendants.
Meanwhile, a report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) found that at least 14 EHRC reports and interviews dating back 23 years and assessing the protection of human rights for black people in the UK, had not been consistently implemented. The JCHR said that the EHRC ‘lacked the teeth’ to enforce any recommendations.
No black commissioners on the EHRC board
Following Mr Goodhart’s appointment, it has been highlighted that there are no black commissioners currently serving on the EHRC, further adding to the lack of trust that the commission has and the services it provides among the UK’s black community.
Mr Goodhart’s appointment means that out of the 11 permanent commissioners on the EHRC, nine are white.
Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said of Mr Goodhart’s appointment: “It’s extremely concerning.”
“At a particularly sensitive moment in our nation’s social history, Mr Goodhart’s comments 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,” Begum said.
Begum went on to argue that the seeming lack of diversity among the EHRC’s permanent commissioners will do nothing to quash fears that minorities are not entitled to a seat at the UK’s ‘decision-making table’, even in the sphere of equality and human rights.
She said: “It’s beyond belief that in 2020, despite the Windrush scandal, the murder of George Floyd and BLM, the EHRC board is so heavily weighted in terms of white representation that it still doesn’t have a single, permanent black representative.”
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The EHRC was established to expose and address racism and inequality. This appointment sets a problematic precedent, showing the reluctant, if not the wilful negligence, of the government to address racism within British society.”
The Independent approaches Goodhart
The Independent approached Mr Goodhart following his EHRC appointment, who said: “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.”
“I have also said that we need a proper debate on status-checking within the UK. A lack of a robust system will have serious consequences for immigration. 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,” Mr Goodhart added.
The newly appointed commissioner said that he was ‘looking forward to contributing to the debate about creating a fair and transparent system.’
He went on to say that although he had talked about ‘statistical naivety’ in relation to some of the claims made by people identifying with the BLM movement, he said that: “I did write in that same article that much of ethnic minority Britain has made progress in recent decades.”
Matter for the government
Commenting on Mr Goodhart’s appointment, the EHRC simply said that ‘commissioner appointments are a matter for the government.’
A spokesperson for the government’s Equality Hub, which sits within the Cabinet Office and consists of officials working for the Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and Disability Unit, 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 UK,” the spokesperson added.
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