The assistant general secretary of Unite the Union, Howard Beckett, has found himself suspended from the UK Labour Party and fending off a barrage of criticism after what has been denounced as a “vile” tweet targeting Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The senior official, who is in the running to take over from Len McCluskey as leader of the British and Irish trade union, commonly known as Unite and acknowledged as one of Labour's biggest financial sponsors, posted the offensive tweet after the Home Office detained two Indian immigrants in Glasgow on 13 May over "suspected immigration offences".
The move brought hundreds of residents in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow out into the streets, some heard shouting "let our neighbours go", and surrounding the Border Agency van where they believed the men were being held.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had also voiced her fundamental disagreement with Home Office immigration policy.
In a since-deleted Twitter post, Beckett, who sits on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, wrote:
"Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting."
The tweet targeting London-born Patel, who has Indian-Ugandan parents, was deleted half an hour later, but triggered a swift backlash. Labour MP Chris Bryant denounced it as "vile".
“This should play no part in Labour – or in British politics. The Labour Party takes these allegations extremely seriously and appropriate action will be taken,” he said.
The opposition party suspended Beckett following the Twitter post, according to Sky News.
Gurinder Singh Josan, a member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee and a member of Unite, tweeted that while he disagreed with Patel’s policies, Beckett’s tweet was “dog whistle racism against a woman of colour”.
The senior trade unionist has also ostensibly been reported to the police for a hate crime.
I’m very sorry for my earlier tweet. I was angry to see Muslim Refugees being deported on the morning of Eid Al Fitr.— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) May 13, 2021
My earlier tweet, deleted after half an hour, was never intended to be literal. My intention was to emphasise that racist policies should be rejected & have no place in society. The wording was wrong, offensive & I apologise unreservedly to Priti Patel. No one should be deported.— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) May 13, 2021
Howard Beckett returned to Twitter later to issue an apology for his “wrong and offensive” wording, saying that his earlier tweet was “never intended to be literal". According to the unionist, he had sought to underscore that “racist policies should be rejected”.
Standoff in Glasgow
Police Scotland have since released the detained Indian nationals pending a further investigation after a standoff with protesters in Glasgow that lasted several hours. Local residents had surrounded the immigration enforcement van to block it from leaving the area, with one individual allegedly crawling under the vehicle.
The Home Office said the two men had been detained during a morning raid by border enforcement over "suspected immigration offences" and taken to security in the van.
In a statement announcing the men’s release, Police Scotland underscored that they did not assist in the removal of asylum seekers, and were on the scene to ensure public safety.
The decision to release the two men had been taken to “protect the safety, public health and well-being of all people involved in the detention and subsequent protest in Kenmure Street.”
The detention and subsequent events had prompted first minister Nicola Sturgeon to slam the Home Office for creating “a dangerous and unacceptable situation”.
"This action was unacceptable. To act in this way, in the heart of a Muslim community as they celebrated Eid, and in an area experiencing a Covid outbreak was a health and safety risk," stated Sturgeon.
1/ Today’s events were entirely down to @ukhomeoffice actions. @policescotland were in an invidious position - they do not assist in the removal of asylum seekers but do have a duty to protect public safety. They act independently of ministers, but I support this decision https://t.co/9SCNGa6tpy— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 13, 2021
After being set free, one of the two detained men, Lakhvir Singh, 34, was cited as saying through a translator:
"I’ve been astonished and overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from the people of Glasgow.”
In response to the incident, a Home Office spokesperson was cited as saying:
“The operation in Glasgow was conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences, and the two Indian nationals complied with officers at all times. The UK government continues to tackle illegal migration in all its forms and our new plan for immigration will speed up the removal of those who have entered the UK illegally.”