UNITED KINGDOM: Our statement following the alleged letter of complaint to the Charity Commission

Statement by Runnymede Trust, published on 20 April 2021, available here.

From 1968 and Rivers of Blood, to 2021 and the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Sewell Report), the Runnymede Trust has worked tirelessly to represent the lives of those millions of Britons who constitute this country’s Black and ethnic minority communities.

For over half a century we have operated in partnership with governments and political parties supporting and, where necessary, criticising without fear or favour to help bring about true racial equality in the UK.

Despite what we considered to be a constructive working relationship with Number 10’s former race advisor Samuel Kasumu and our best efforts to collate evidence for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, it would appear that partnership is now under threat.

We understand that 15 MPs from the government back benches have written to the Charities Commission about the Trust’s work, in a repeat of similar actions several of those MPs have taken against other British charities.

We further understand this letter is motivated by the Trust’s thorough and well-prepared response to the utterly discredited Sewell Report, and our legitimate participation in a Judicial Review relating to aspects of Equalities legislation in the non-transparent, non-competitive appointment of establishment figures to senior public offices during the national pandemic response – not one of those persons representing a Black and ethnic minority communities. The High Court has seen fit to progress this case to review on its merits.

The Trust regrets the recent trend for politicians to forsake dialogue and simply file complaints against charities whose efforts to address and challenge racism they contest. Beloved British institutions including the National Trust and Barnardo’s have also fallen foul of this worrying trend. Indeed, we are extremely concerned that the efforts made by these charities to address racism are the single common factor behind the grievances to which they have been subjected by what would appear to be a core group of MPs.

Given that Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is expected to speak about the Sewell Report in Parliament today, we note that the timing of the letter in question has the appearance of being highly orchestrated. This raises further serious questions about the underlying motives for this action, and precisely who is behind it.

Britain is a shining light for democracy. Any attempt by politicians to “weaponise” the Charities Commission or use it as a bulwark against organisations that express their dissenting voice on matters of national importance, and that relate to the core functions of the organisation in question, should be a cause for significant alarm.

Therefore, as we approach the anniversary of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, the Runnymede Trust takes this opportunity to reassert its belief that the struggle to achieve equality, in all its forms, is one that pits right against wrong. It is a struggle that must be defined by research and data, not to mention respect for the lived experiences and voices of the people in this country who face discrimination every day, whether or not as a result of the ethnicity or religion.

On this basis, and while noting that regulations do not prevent charities campaigning on issues related to their core charitable objectives, the Runnymede Trust wholeheartedly welcomes any opportunity to collaborate with the Charity Commission regarding any aspect of our work, including our response to the Sewell report – a publication so utterly discredited that, in a quite extraordinary intervention this week, the United Nations was moved to label it an “attempt to normalise white supremacy”.

Given such universal and excoriating criticism of the Sewell Report, it seems sadly revealing that the MPs in question have chosen to pillory one of the UK’s leading race equalities charities as a consequence of its response to the report, rather than focus on the substantive issue of how to tackle racial inequality in this country.

Regardless, the Runnymede Trust is confident that we have acted in accordance with our legal obligations to the Charities Commission, whether or not in expressing our legitimate fears about what, in the case of the Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities, would now appear to be the most discredited social report in modern British history.

Equally, we are prepared to defend our right, as an anti-racism organisation acting in the public interest, to participate in a Judicial Review of equalities law in the context of public appointments that would discriminate unequivocally against Black and minority ethnic citizens of equal experience.

As ever, the Runnymede Trust welcomes being challenged in our work but, as a body that represents Britain’s Black and minority ethnic communities, we will not be cowed.

Having pointed out what we believe to be the predictable and highly politicised nature of the letter sent to the Charities Commission, it is our considered view that the actions of the MPs in question will cause significant concern to each and every person in this country who, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, stands opposed to racism and prejudice in all their forms.

As the Runnymede Trust has done for more than 50 years, we intend to continue working in a collegiate spirit with the government of the day at every opportunity we have. We will do so to achieve genuine racial equality in this country, and that commitment extends to all politicians and parties.