The Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “deep concern” over the appointment of the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Israel as the chair of a review into civil unrest between Muslims and Hindus in Leicester last year.
Lord Ian Austin has been appointed to chair the independent review, announced on Friday, into the unrest between British Pakistani Muslim and Indian Hindu communities that descended into widespread violence and vandalism, including attacks on places of worship.
He caused controversy in 2021 when he posted a tweet showing a fake new flavour for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for people in Gaza, named “Hamas Terror Misu” after the company announced it would stop selling its products in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Speaking on Wednesday, the Muslim Council – an umbrella organisation representing Muslim groups across the country, said it “expresses deep concern” over Lord Austin’s appointment and urged the Levelling Up Minister, Michael Gove, to reconsider.
In a statement, it said: “An independent review is an important step to address and understand the causes of last year’s unrest.
“However, it is crucial to have an independent reviewer who is impartial, fair, and capable of gaining the trust and confidence of all stakeholders.
“The appointment of Lord Austin, given his divisive record and the serious allegations of Islamophobia against him, has created deep apprehension among Muslims and other communities in Leicester.
“This casts doubts on his suitability to oversee a review aimed at building trust and harmony within our communities. Any such review led by Lord Austin will face questions about its credibility and legitimacy.
“We call upon the Secretary of State for Communities, Michael Gove, to reconsider the appointment of Lord Austin and select an independent reviewer who can command the confidence and support of the diverse communities in Leicester.
“We urge the government to act swiftly to ensure that the review is conducted in a manner that reflects the principles of fairness, justice, and unity that Leicester and its residents deserve.”
He had previously been Labour MP for Dudley North from 2005 until 2019, sitting as an independent for his last nine months as MP after resigning from the party due to what he claimed was a “culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance”.
He was nominated for a life peerage in 2020 and still sits as an independent in the House of Lords.
Speaking on Friday, he said: “Acceptance of each other’s background and beliefs is at the heart of our national identity.
“Communities living and working together have formed some of the most vibrant societies across the country and cities such as Leicester have proud histories of tolerance and diversity.
“This makes the scenes we witnessed in Leicester last year all the more worrying and it is therefore so important that we listen to people in Leicester to get to the bottom of what happened and why.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said that the review will be led by a panel of experts which once appointed will aim to understand the causes of the unrest and provide recommendations on how to improve relations between Muslim and Hindu communities.
The violence, which erupted last September, was sparked by a cricket match between India and Pakistan.
Officers from across the East and West Midlands, and horses from Thames Valley, were brought in to help deal with the unrest, with officers diverted from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
At least 47 people were arrested.
Responding to the Muslim Council’s concerns, a DLUHC spokesperson said: “We are confident that this thorough, independent review will strengthen community cohesion in Leicester – a city with a proud history of tolerance and diversity.
“The independent panel of experts will hear from a wide range of people and voices from across the city and beyond, to get to the bottom of what happened and why.
“We will announce further details about the review shortly, including the names of the panel members who will support the chair in this important task.”