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'Hostile environment' supporter appointed to EHRC equality watchdog

David Goodhart, who says he has 'grown used to being accused of racism even by my own children,' appointed to Equality and Human Rights Commission board
David Goodhart described Black Lives Matter complaints of systemic racism in the UK as "statistically naive" (Screengrab)

The UK government has appointed a supporter of its "hostile environment" policy as a commissioner on its equalities watchdog, the EHRC, which is currently investigating the Home Office over the linked Windrush scandal in which hundreds of people from Black and ethnic minorities were wrongly deported.

David Goodhart's appointment was announced on Wednesday on the same day that a scathing report by parliament's human rights committee found that the Equality and Human Rights Commission was failing to promote and protect Black people's rights.

Goodhart is a journalist and author who currently heads an immigration and integration research unit at the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank.

He has written in support of the Home Office's "hostile environment" policy, a series of measures introduced during the 2010s under then-home secretary Theresa May that were intended to make life more difficult for people living irregularly in the UK.

It has been blamed for the so-called Windrush scandal, in which hundreds of people, many with backgrounds in former British colonial territories, were wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper in 2018, Goodhart described the Windrush scandal, named after the ship which brought hundreds of people from the Caribbean to the UK in 1948, as "an error of over-zealous control" which "must not lead to a radical watering-down of the so-called 'hostile environment'".

A Policy Exchange report co-authored by Goodhart and published at the same time called for a national identity card scheme to be implemented as part of a wider crackdown on irregular migration, and observed: "The often elderly Caribbeans caught up in the Windrush scandal were victims of that process being mismanaged, not the process itself."

'Statistically naive'

In June the EHRC launched an assessment into the impact of hostile environment policies on the Windrush generation and their descendants.

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

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A spokesperson told MEE that its review of whether the Home Office complied with equality law while implementing the "hostile environment" immigration measures would be published shortly.

"Commissioner appointments are a matter for government," the spokesperson said.

Goodhart has also questioned complaints of systemic racism in the UK raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Writing for the Unherd website in June, he described those complaints as "statistically naive".

"Nearly 40 years ago in Brixton mainly working-class British Caribbean young men rioted over openly racist policing, today we have black graduates (a mix of British Caribbean and British African) angry over unconscious bias and slower promotion. That surely represents some kind of progress," he wrote.

Describing his own political journey from centre-left liberalism since publishing a contentious essay titled "Too Diverse?" for Prospect magazine in 2004, Goodhart bemoaned that he had "grown used to being accused of racism, even by my own children".

MEE contacted Policy Exchange for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Goodhart's appointment was greeted with dismay by anti-racism campaigners.

A spokesperson for the Institute of Race Relations told MEE: "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."

The appointment was announced on the same day that parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the EHRC was failing to protect Black people and called on the government to take action to promote equal rights.

Criticising the lack of any Black commissioners on the EHRC's current board, the report also called for Black people to be appointed at a senior level.

The report said that the EHRC had been "unable to adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights".

It said the watchdog lacked adequate resources and enforcement powers and called for the creation of a "high profile organisation at national level whose priority it is to champion and press for progress on race equality".

On Wednesday, the government appointed three other commissioners in addition to Goodhart including Bernard Ribeiro, a Conservative member of the House of Lords and former president of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Ribeiro, who was born in Ghana, was appointed to a one-year term "to provide medical and public health expertise," the Government Equalities Office said.

The other commissioners appointed are Jessica Butcher, a technology entrepreneur, and Su-Mei Thompson, the head of Media Trust, a charity promoting marginalised groups in the media and creative industries.

Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities, said: "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."

A spokesperson for the EHRC told MEE that it agreed with a number of the recommendations made in the report.

"The human rights of Black people and the inequality that still exists in Britain has been in the spotlight during the pandemic and with the Black Lives Matter movement. These are not new problems and we have long been championing the improvements needed for people from ethnic minorities," the spokesperson said.

"We have recently launched our inquiry into racial inequality in low paid roles in the health and social care sector, and will soon be reporting on our assessment on the Government's hostile environment policies highlighted by the Windrush scandal."