Trevor Phillips has been readmitted to the Labour party after his suspension for alleged Islamophobia was lifted, the Guardian has learned.
The anti-racism campaigner, who previously chaired the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was temporarily banned from the party in March last year. The suspension letter, a copy of which was released by Phillips, cited prior statements including his reference to UK Muslims being “a nation within a nation” and comments observing how few wore Remembrance Day poppies.
At the time he condemned the suspension as a form of political gangsterism from the party under Jeremy Corbyn, having been a severe critic of the then Labour leader, particularly over his handling of antisemitism in the party.
The Guardian understands Phillips was reinstated at least three weeks ago, without the matter having gone to a National Executive Committee disciplinary panel. A Labour source told the Guardian the investigation into Phillips is ongoing and its procedures allow for this to happen even after a member’s suspension has been lifted.
Nevertheless, his readmission to the party comes amid suggestions that the party is facing significant discontent among Muslim voters. Last week Labour held Batley and Spen with a razor-thin majority after the divisive candidate and pro-Palestine campaigner George Galloway won more than 8,000 votes.
Zarah Sultana, the Labour MP for Coventry South, said many of Phillips’ comments “should be unequivocally condemned”. She added: “Before readmittance, the party must at the very least require a full retraction and apology. Anything less makes a mockery of the idea that the party takes Islamophobia seriously and signals contempt for our Muslim supporters.”
In 2016, Phillips, also a writer and broadcaster, commented that the centre of gravity of British Muslim opinion was “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”. He is a polarising figure among other race relations campaigners, having described the use of the term “institutional racism” by the Macpherson inquiry as “a mistake whose consequences are still felt today”.
At the time of his suspension, he said: “They say I am accusing Muslims of being different. Well, actually, that’s true. The point is Muslims are different. And in many ways, I think that’s admirable.”
He also said it was correct for Muslims to be judged collectively because “the truth is, if you do belong to a group, whether it is a church, or a football club, you identify with a particular set of values, and you stand for it. And frankly you are judged by that.”
His suspension caused a mixed reaction within Labour at the time. The backbencher Khalid Mahmood said the allegations against Phillips were “so outlandish as to bring disrepute on all involved in making them”. But Naz Shah, the shadow minister for community cohesion and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, said: “Some of the things he has said on public record would not be acceptable to any minority community.”
A survey of 422 Muslim members or supporters of the Labour party last year found that more than half (55%) did not “trust the leadership of the Labour party to tackle Islamophobia effectively”. Among the concerns was that there was no code of conduct for dealing with Islamophobia comparable with that which – after a public outcry – was put in place for dealing with antisemitism.
There was anger among Muslim members after a briefing attributed to Labour sources suggested the party “lost the conservative Muslim vote [in Batley and Spen] over gay rights and Palestine”.
The Labour Muslim Network called the briefing “patently vile” and Islamophobic, urging the Labour leadership and party as a whole to challenge the views expressed. A spokesperson said: “We are once again in a position where we must express the deep disappointment and frustration of Muslim members and supporters across the UK.
“Trevor Phillips’ case is one of the most high-profile recent examples of Islamophobia within the Labour party and quietly readmitting him behind closed doors, without apology or acknowledgment, will only cause further anxiety and hurt among Muslims.”
Labour refused to comment on the lifting of the suspension. Phillips did not respond to a request for comment.