Boris Johnson has backed the appointment of a professor who suggested non-white British-born people are not “indigenous” to oversee the levelling up strategy – arguing he has the “right expertise”.
The decision to ask Paul Collier to provide analysis on the flagship policy has been condemned by anti-racism campaigners, some likening his language to the British National Party.
The academic claimed “the indigenous British” are “a minority” in London because of immigration – arguing people born in this country should count as indigenous only if they have integrated into society.
In one TV interview, he also argued immigrants have led to Britons fleeing the capital, asking: “Is London such a great success for the indigenous population?”
But Mr Johnson’s spokesperson defended the appointment, declining to criticise his past statements on race, immigration and integration.
“There is due diligence undertaken as part of the formal appointment process for those that are on the levelling up board, who were appointed on the basis of their expertise on levelling up,” he said.
Arguing that the board will be “representative”, the spokesperson added: “It’s important to get the right expertise and ensure we have a representative sample of individuals who can provide the right advice.
“Paul Collier is a well-known economist at the Oxford school of governance and will provide support and analysis on the progress of the 12 missions.”
The 72-year-old is a former director of the development research group at the World Bank and was once named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers.
But he has been criticised repeatedly for the statement, in his book Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World, that: “The 2011 census revealed that the indigenous British had become a minority in their own capital.”
In fact, it showed 63 per cent of Londoners were born in this country – and were only a minority if the non-white British-born were excluded.
The appointment has been attacked as “deplorable” by a former chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and as “dangerous” by a former Tory MEP.
And Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of The Runnymede Trust race equality think tank, said: “Referring to indigenous Britons, which is a proxy for white Britons, is the incredibly divisive language used by the British National Party in the 1980s.
“What place does such divisive politics have in levelling up, where the purpose is giving everybody a decent job and access to good education?”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has refused to respond to requests to comment on the criticism, or to discuss Prof Collier’s role.
It has also yet to announce other members of the board to advise on levelling up, which has been widely criticised for lacking any new policies or funding.