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Afzal given deadline to quit as Lord Mayor-elect, or be forced out by Labour

Afzal given deadline to quit as Lord Mayor-elect, or be forced out by Labour

🕔28.Jan 2016

Muhammad Afzal has been given four days to say he no longer wishes to be Lord Mayor of Birmingham or face the humiliation of having his candidacy withdrawn by Labour councillors.

Cllr Afzal is under pressure to step down following critical remarks he made about the Government’s counter-terror Prevent scheme, elements of which he described as racist.

The chair of the Birmingham Central Mosque also called the Prime Minister an Islamophobe and questioned whether Muslims from the UK were really travelling to Syria to fight with ISIL terrorists.

Attempts by Cllr Afzal to cling on to the mayoralty failed after Labour city council leader John Clancy made it clear he could no longer become Lord Mayor and that he should “consider his position”.

The Labour group of city councillors will gather on Monday 1st February for their monthly meeting.

If Cllr Afzal has not voluntarily stood down as Lord Mayor-elect, he is certain to face a vote of no confidence which the council leader believes will be carried.

The Labour group will agree to hold a fresh ballot to determine the Lord Mayor for 2016-2017, and Cllr Afzal will not be permitted to be a candidate. The winner of the new ballot will be formally declared Lord Mayor-elect at a full council meeting in March.

Cllr Afzal spent much of the past two days trying to lobby support among fellow Muslim councillors and has also approached some Birmingham MPs to take up his case.

But his position appeared hopeless when the council issued a strong cross-party statement supporting the Prevent initiative.

Inclusion and community safety cabinet member Shafique Shah was joined by his Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadows Ewan Mackey and Roger Harmer. They said:

We wish to make it clear that there continues to be strong cross-party commitment in Birmingham to the aims and objectives of the Prevent programme, which are to keep our residents safe and protect the vulnerable.

Communities live and work in harmony across our city and there is no place for fanatical extremism or intolerance.

We will continue to work closely with communities, the police and Home Office to counter extremism in any form.

Any faint hope Cllr Afzal may have had of surviving the storm disappeared when the Birmingham Mail published an audio tape of his speech where he can clearly be heard calling the prime minister an Islamophobe. He had denied using the word and accused the newspaper of sensationalist reporting.

He was also pictured in Chamberlain Files at the meeting where he made his controversial speech standing next to a “No to Prevent – No to State Racisim” banner, which he claimed he had not noticed when posing for the photograph.

Cllr Clancy has told Cllr Afzal to his face that he must step down and has made it clear privately that he regards the Afzal issue as an important first test of his leadership. He has reiterated his full support for the Prevent programme and reminded colleagues of the importance he puts on the regular counter-terror briefings he receives from West Midlands Police.

In a statement in which he urged Cllr Afzal to stand down, the council leader said:

We continue to work closely with our communities across the city, with colleagues in West Midlands Police and at the Home Office to ensure that neither intolerance nor fanatical extremism has a place in Birmingham.

In fact, one of the first things I did as leader of the city council was to request a full counter-terrorism briefing from West Midlands Police and earlier this month I attended the Contest Board to discuss this important issue.

I also recently joined 60 of my fellow councillors for a Prevent briefing. That figure underlines the importance of this issue and there was a shared cross-party determination to fight intolerance and extremism of any kind.

While I can understand community concerns around the current media focus on Muslim communities and Prevent, I can assure you that our approach covers all forms of extremism.

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