A Coventry MP has signed a letter demanding Home Secretary Priti Patel apologise for comments which have been branded ‘hate speech’.
During an online event with the Board of Deputies of British Jews Ms Patel was reported to say that “criminality” among Traveller communities on unauthorised camps is causing concern for the government.
In response to a question during the meeting about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, Ms Patel said: “The Home Office’s work in this particular area actually refers to some of the criminality that takes place, and that has happened through traveller communities and unauthorised encampments.
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“Now that’s very different to gypsy and roma communities. The two are absolutely separate. Where we have seen criminality, violence taking place.”
National charity Traveller Movement has taken exception to the comments, pointing out that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are protected from race discrimination under the Equality Act.
They have written a letter to Ms Patel, co-signed by a number of MPs, campaigners and academics including Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana, which describes the home secretary’s comments as ‘hate speech’ because it ‘brands an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent’.
Letter in full
The letter states: “We write to express our concerns regarding your recent anti-Traveller comments made during an online event with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, where you referred to Travellers on unauthorised sites as criminal and violent. These comments are completely unacceptable and discriminatory in the extreme, especially coming from a Home Secretary.
“Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are protected from race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. We consider your comments during this meeting to constitute hate speech as it brands an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent.
“You have a duty as a public figure to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and encourage good relations between all groups. Your comments not only pit ethnic groups against one another; they also single out an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent. As you will be aware, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers experience some of the highest levels of discrimination, hate and hostility of all ethnic groups.
“The online hate speech bill in Scotland is currently open for consultation. We ask you to explain how you consider that your comments fit with that bill? How can these communities rely on their experiences being taken seriously when the Home Secretary is wilfully uttering hate speech?
“We recently launched a campaign, with Jewish human rights group Rene Cassin calling for all parliamentarians to sign a pledge to cut out hate speech. We think you should sign that pledge.
“You should also consider supporting Lord Simon Woolley’s recent call for all sitting parliamentarians to receive unconscious bias training Clearly, it is desperately needed.
“Further, there is no evidence to support your claims that criminality or violence abounds within Traveller sites.
“We call for an immediate retraction of these comments, and a public apology made directly to all Traveller, Gypsy and Roma people.
“We look forward to hearing from you.”