A leadership candidate for one of Labour’s biggest union backers has been suspended from the party after he suggested Priti Patel should be “deported”, Sky News understands.
Howard Beckett, who is standing to be elected as Unite’s new general secretary, was heavily criticised on Thursday night over his tweets about the home secretary.
In a series of messages linked to mass protests in Glasgow earlier in the day over the detention of two men by Border Force officials, Mr Beckett posted: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees.
“She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.”
Ms Patel was born in London to Indian-Ugandan parents who emigrated to the UK in the 1960s, just before Idi Amin’s decision to deport all Asians.
Mr Beckett, who was appointed to Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee last year, at first appeared to defend his tweet amid anger from other Twitter users.
After one user questioned where the Unite candidate thought Ms Patel should be deported to, Mr Beckett said: “Read the tweet. It’s to reference the racist agenda of the policies of Tories. To say there should be no place for racists in society.”
But Mr Beckett then later deleted his initial tweet and offered an apology.
“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 posted.
A Conservative source said: “We look forward to Labour’s swift condemnation of this vile racism.”
Sky News understands Mr Beckett has since 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
Mr Beckett is standing to replace Unite’s outgoing general secretary Len McCluskey, who is standing down after more than 10 years in the role.
Currently an assistant general secretary, Mr Beckett is viewed as Mr McCluskey’s heir apparent to lead the trade union, which is one of Labour’s largest donors.
Conservative MP Steve Baker earlier called for a “robust response” from Labour over the “extraordinary, absolutely intolerable remark”.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes these allegations extremely seriously and appropriate action will be taken.”
Under the party’s new rules, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office cannot interfere in an independent disciplinary process.
But Sky News was told disciplinary procedures were expected to be under way quickly.
Meanwhile, Mr Beckett was told he should be sacked on Thursday after both Unite and a blogger lost a £1.3m battle over legal costs.
The sum relates to lawyers’ bills run up by former Labour MP Anna Turley after she successfully won a libel case against Unite and blogger Stephen Walker.
A judge considered issues relating to legal costs at an online hearing on Thursday about 18 months after the libel battle ended.
He said Ms Turley had won and was therefore entitled to have her costs paid by the losers.
The judge was told that Ms Turley had initially claimed about £2m in lawyers’ bills but subsequently agreed that Unite and Mr Walker should pay about £1.3m.
A Unite spokesman said after the hearing that the union and Mr Walker would be “jointly liable for the legal costs”.
Commenting on the hearing, former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson called for Mr Beckett – as Unite’s “legal guy” – to be sacked.