Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch giving evidence before a Commons committee

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Minister Kemi Badenoch has said she rejected a chance to lead a Downing Street coronavirus briefing amid concerns it would appear “tokenistic”. 

Badenoch, who is leading a government review into the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, revealed to MPs on Wednesday that Boris Johnson had invited her to answer questions about the probe at one of the high-profile televised press conferences. 

But the Black MP, who serves both as equality minister and exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said she feared appearing to discuss BAME issues would not “give the right impression”. 

She went on to say “people shouldn’t feel that advice has to come from people who look like them” and she felt it would “look like when we were talking about Black issues we bring a Black person”. 

Badenoch was giving evidence before the Commons’ women and equalities committee and was pressed by Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy on why the briefings were led 97% of the time by men and the majority of the time by white people. 

Badenoch said: “On the point about things being tokenistic, I do think if it is done in the wrong way it can look tokenistic. 

“I was asked for instance at one point whether I would want to do a daily briefing but I didn’t feel, as a junior minister, that that would give the right impression. 

“It would look like when we were talking about Black issues we bring a Black person on to talk about that not not about the wider things. I’m not just equality minister I am also a Treasury secretary. 

″I think we also need to be very careful about giving the impression that ethnic minorities do ethnic subjects, women do women’s subjects and everybody does everything else.” 

Ribeiro-Addy went on to point out that BAME people had not felt represented at the meetings. 

Badenoch said she understood that point but also that “people shouldn’t feel that advice has to come from people who look like them”. 

She went on: “Because if that happens, then the converse is true: where when an ethnic minority is speaking people might feel well this person is only speaking for their sub-group. 

“It is a challenge, that perception, but we shouldn’t just accept it.” 

The minister accepted that initially the PM and health secretary Matt Hancock dominated briefings, but claimed that later changed to a more diversity cast. 

She cited chancellor Rishi Sunak and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam as examples, before saying it was “completely wrong” to suggest BAME people were not contributing to the government’s response to the pandemic. 

She said: “I think at the beginning when the briefings were happening, it was very much the prime minister and the health secretary, but to say that people should be judged on the colour of their skin and their gender rather than what they are saying I think is wrong.” 

She added: “It is completely wrong to say BAME people were not involved in the decisions. The chancellor is an ethnic minority, so is the business secretary. 

“I’ve been cabinet or sub-cabinet meetings where they have been taking the lead on a lot of the interventions we have been making to ensure that people are being protected – so they have had a voice.”

Asked why the work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had not appeared, despite her department encompassing a disabilities brief. 

Badenoch said other ministers had been approach but she did not know whether Coffey had. 

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