Ex-equality watchdog boss warns UK needs a 'more muscular' approach to integration

Britain is at risk of sleepwalking towards "catastrophe" because of "squeamishness" and complacency about diversity, an influential former human rights watchdog has warned.

Trevor Phillips painted a grim picture of community tension and conflict unless a "more muscular" approach to integration is adopted in place of the existing "laissez-faire" attitude.

In an essay titled Race And Faith: The Deafening Silence, he delivers a startling and at times blistering critique.

trevor phillips
The former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission says there is a "laissez-faire" attitude to integration (Rebecca Reid/PA)

Phillips writes: "In my view, squeamishness about addressing diversity and its discontents risks allowing our country to sleepwalk to a catastrophe that will set community against community, endorse sexist aggression, suppress freedom of expression, reverse hard-won civil liberties, and undermine the liberal democracy that has served this country so well for so long.

"Worst of all it may destroy popular support for the values that have, in my opinion, characterised the greatest political advances in my lifetime: equality and solidarity."

He adds: "Any attempt to ask whether aspects of minority disadvantage may be self-inflicted is denounced as 'blaming the victim'. Instead, we prefer to answer any difficult questions by focusing on the historic prejudices of the dominant majority. In short, it's all about white racism.

"This stance just won't do any more. In fact, in today's superdiverse society, it is dangerously misguided."

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Phillips says things like providing only halal meat in some schools generate public unease (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

There is "no shortage of public condemnation of 'racism'", the paper says, referring to complaints about discriminatory behaviour, the "alleged fear of backlash against Muslims after each terrorist incident", campaigns to remove symbols of colonialism, and social media campaigns against "supposedly offensive" language.

However, these are not the topics that generate public unease, according to Phillips.

"Rather it is the appearance of non-English names above the shop-fronts in the high street; the odd decision to provide only halal meat in some schools; evidence of corruption in municipal politics dominated by one ethnic group or another," he writes.

"Such headlines, frequently misreported, but often grounded in some real change, provoke muttering in the pub, or grumbling at the school gate. They become gathering straws in a stiffening breeze of nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment."

david cameron
David Cameron has commissioned a review (Leon Neal/PA)

Expectations of "non-dominant minority groups" are low, the article also claims. "We do little to create incentives for those who do not choose to be citizens to do more than the minimum to cope with living on British soil," it says.

Phillips suggests a number of steps, including a duty to integrate on educational institutions and an overhaul of freedom of expression laws.

A Government spokesman said: "This Government is committed to creating an integrated society.

"The Prime Minister has commissioned a review to see what more we can do to create cohesive communities in England."

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