Howard Beckett: who is Unite official, what did he say about Priti Patel - and why did Labour suspend him?

Mr Beckett is in the running to replace Len McCluskey as leader of Unite

Howard Beckett: who is Unite official, what did he say about Priti Patel - and why did Labour suspend him? (Photos: Howard Beckett, Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Howard Beckett: who is Unite official, what did he say about Priti Patel - and why did Labour suspend him? (Photos: Howard Beckett, Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Labour party has suspended a senior trade union official over a Tweet in which he called the Home Secretary Priti Patel ‘disgusting’ and said “[she] should be deported, not refugees.”

Howard Beckett of Unite the Union, has since apologised and said his Tweet was “never intended to be literal”.

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Who is Howard Beckett?

Beckett is a trade unionist who is standing to be the next general secretary of Unite, one of the UK’s biggest trade unions.

Beckett is currently Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, and he is considered to be the most left-wing candidate to be standing for general secretary in this year’s Unite election.

Beckett was responding to ongoing events in Glasgow, where hundreds of local people collectively prevented a UK immigration enforcement van from removing several men from their homes in a dawn immigration raid.

Many, including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has criticised the Home Office’s decision to launch an immigration raid on Eid al Fitr, an important Muslim holiday.

In a since-deleted Tweet, Beckett wrote: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.”

Many have criticised Beckett’s tweet, describing it as racist, including Labour MP for Stockport Navendu Mishra, who Tweeted: “Racism is unacceptable under any circumstances. Sadly, we have a toxic Conservative government with a hostile agenda against people of colour.

"We don’t beat racism by being racist towards people we disagree with. I am proud of my heritage so should everyone.”

Leading left-wing journalists and campaigner Owen Jones, Tweeted condemning Beckett’s comments, saying “you should never call for a person of colour to be deported, whoever they are!”.

However, those defending Beckett have said that Priti Patel was referenced as it is her policies, as home secretary, which lead to deportations, and that her race has nothing to do with Beckett’s sentiment.

Many of those who defended Beckett’s intention still said the Tweet was ill-judged, could clearly be misinterpreted and should be deleted.

Beckett apologises

After deleting the Tweet relatively soon after uploading it, Beckett responded to the criticism with an apology, saying he was “angry to see Muslim Refugees being deported” on a religious holiday.

He wrote: “Priti Patel message on Eid al Fitr is to deport Muslim refugees. Those who have been forced to flee war zones.

“We are seeing appalling institutional racism again and again from the supposed pillars of the British elite.

“Our society should have no place for racism, at all.

“I’m very sorry for my earlier tweet. I was angry to see Muslim Refugees being deported on the morning of Eid Al Fitr.

He added: “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.”

Why was he suspended from Labour?

The Labour Party was quick to announce Beckett’s suspension following his initial tweet.

Some have speculated that the Labour leadership has used the incident to score factional points.

An unnamed source told BBC’s Lewis Goodall that “Keir is prising McCluskey’s cold, dead hand from the Labour Party” in reference to outgoing Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, who has been critical of Starmer’s leadership.

As candidate for general secretary, Beckett is seen as the most politically-aligned with McCluskey, a left-wing figure, while it is thought that the Labour leader’s office would prefer another candidate, Steve Turner.

Unite is the largest union affiliate of the Labour party and provides them with significant funding, meaning it holds some influence in the party.