The equalities minister has criticised “bad faith” attempts to discredit a government-commissioned race report as she faced MPs in the Commons.
Kemi Badenoch said members of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities had been subjected to “appalling abuse”, including death threats.
It comes after human rights experts from the United Nations alleged the report tried to “normalise white supremacy”.
Ms Badenoch told MPs she rejects the UN statement, claiming it was clearly “borne out of the divisive narratives being perpetrated by certain media outlets and political groups who are seeking to sow division in our ethnic communities”.
She added that she would be writing to the group “in the strongest of terms”.
Ms Badenoch told MPs: “It is true that this landmark analysis challenges a number of strongly held beliefs about the extensive influence of racism in Britain today.
“The commissioners have followed the evidence and drawn conclusions which challenge orthodoxy and they were prepared for a both robust and constructive debate.
“However, they were not prepared for the wilful misrepresentation of the report, which occurred following its publication, such as false accusations that they deny that racism exists, or that they wish to put a positive spin on the atrocities of slavery, or for statements that commissioners did not read or sign off on their own report, or that they’re breaking ranks.
“I have been informed by the chair and by individual members that the Commission remains united, and stands by their report.
“This government welcomes legitimate disagreements and debate, but firmly rejects bad faith attempts to undermine the credibility of this report.”
The equalities minister said it was wrong to label people who advocate a different approach to addressing racial inequality as being “racism deniers” or “race traitors”.
She added: “The government even more firmly condemns the deeply personal and racialised attacks against the commissioners, which have included death threats, and in fact one member from the opposition benches presented commissioners as members of the Ku Klux Klan, an example of the very online racial hatred and abuse on which the report itself recommended more action be taken by government.”
The commission’s report, which was published last month, said racism remained a “real force” but Britain was no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
Commission chairman Dr Tony Sewell said it had found no evidence of “institutional racism”.
And its report criticised the way the term has been used, saying it should not be applied as a “catch-all” phrase for any microaggression.
Ms Badenoch said the report did not deny institutional racism exists, but that it did not find conclusive evidence of it in the areas looked at.
She told the Commons that Boris Johnson has set up an inter-ministerial group to examine the commission’s 24 recommendations, with the government aiming to produce a response by the summer.
Labour’s shadow equalities minister Marsha de Cordova said experts had discredited the report, not people acting in bad faith.
She said: “Its cherry-picking of data is misleading and incoherent, its conclusions are ideologically motivated and divisive, it is absolutely clear to all of us on this side of the House and across civil society that this report has no credibility.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott, the first black woman elected to parliament said black and brown Britons deserve better.
“The minister has accused people of criticising the report in bad faith,” she said.
“Is she really saying that Professor Michael Marmot, a world-renowned expert in public health, is acting out of bad faith? Is she really saying the British Medical Association and other professional associations are speaking out of bad faith?”
Responding to Ms Abbott’s comment that “surely black and brown British people who have contributed so much to this country deserve better than this report”, Ms Badenoch said: “What black and brown British people like myself deserve is better treatment from members of the Opposition who are continuing to stoke division.
“Of course I am not accusing Professor Sir Michael Marmot of bad faith, of course I am not accusing the BMA of bad faith – I am accusing her and her colleagues who are posting pictures of the KKK and advertised that the shadow equalities minister was at an event preparing to denounce the report a week before it was even published.
“It is them who I accuse of acting in bad faith.”
Fellow Labour MP Dawn Butler said the report was “gaslighting on a national scale”, while Bell Ribeiro-Addy said it was “steeped in denial”.
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