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Matt Hancock named Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel as “Black and minority ethnic” (BAME) senior ministers when asked to name Black cabinet members.
Following fresh Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, the health secretary was unable to name any Black cabinet members - because there are none.
Hancock went on to name Kwasi Kwarteng, who used to attend cabinet until February’s reshuffle before insisting Boris Johnson has a “very good record” on diversity.
James Cleverly, who is mixed race, also used to attend cabinet but was shifted from his role as Tory party chairman to become a junior minister for the Middle East and north Africa in the Foreign Office.
Asked how many Black people are in the cabinet, Hancock told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “There’s a whole series of people from a black and minority ethnic background. The chancellor of the exchequer (Sunak), the home secretary (Patel) to name but two.”
Sunak and Patel are from a British Indian background, as well as the business secretary Alok Sharma and attorney general Suella Braverman, who attends cabinet.
When Ridge highlighted the importance of not “lumping” together everyone from a non-white background as different groups face different prejudice, Hancock said: “The two cabinets I’ve sat in with Boris Johnson as prime minister are the two most diverse cabinets I’ve ever sat in.
“And, you know, right at the top of government, including in the great offices of state, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
“Kwasi Kwarteng was sitting around the cabinet table with me.
“And so, actually I think that Boris Johnson has got a very good record on this and brings people in and listens to a diversity of views.
“And it’s diversity of thought that’s the really important thing when you’re taking those big decisions around the cabinet table.”
Hancock went on to name junior equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, who is leading fresh work on why BAME people are at higher risk of death from coronavirus than white people.
Tory former minister Caroline Nokes has told HuffPost UK the prime minister must demonstrate he believes Black lives matter by standing up to Donald Trump over his handling of protests in America following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police.
And the prime minister has been told the government “can and must do more” to address racial inequality by former chancellor Sajid Javid.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Javid said only the PM was capable of “driving real change”, adding the UK risked being “complacent” about its claims to be a tolerant society.
Hancock said he does not feel that Britain is racist but insisted tackling racial injustice was a “core part” of the government’s levelling up agenda, particularly on improving education and job opportunities.
“I do think that there’s injustice that needs to be tackled,” he said.
“I think we’re one of the most tolerant and open societies in the world, but there’s always more that can and must be done, especially to empower people so that they can achieve that potential, that’s at the core of my political beliefs and I think that it’s incredibly important.
“So I think the substance of what’s being said and the arguments made by those who are marching, I think there’s a lot to it.
“I think, thankfully this is all based in response to events in America, rather than here, but we also must continue the drive here for tolerance and genuine equality of opportunity.”