Keir Starmer blocks bid to make leading Sikh independence supporter a peer in ‘extremism row’

Sir Keir Starmer ditched plans to give a peerage to a leading Sikh independence supporter amid concerns over his alleged ‘extremist’ links, it was claimed last night.

But the Labour leader is facing calls to explain his decision after friends of senior public official Dabinderjit Singh Sidhu insisted it was ‘complete nonsense’ to say he was a fanatic.

Sir Keir is also being urged to say whether he had bowed to warnings that the Indian government would be furious to see Mr Singh receive the honour.

Sir Keir Starmer ditched plans to give a peerage to a leading Sikh independence supporter amid concerns over his alleged ‘extremist’ links, it was claimed last night

Sources have suggested the timing of the peerage – ahead of a planned visit by Boris Johnson later this month – would have made it especially sensitive.

Mr Singh, a long-standing campaigner for the creation of a sovereign Sikh state in the Punjab in India, was due to be one of six new Labour peers announced just before Christmas. 

But The Mail on Sunday understands that on the day of the announcement, he was told Sir Keir had withdrawn his nomination. The move came even though the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which vets peerages on security service advice, had approved the nomination.

Labour sources would only say yesterday that they had received new information about the ‘background’ of Mr Singh, who is a senior official at the National Audit Office.

Mr Singh, 55, faced reports in 2008 that he had been a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) which was banned in the UK in 2001 amid Home Office warnings its members were a threat to national security. 

The Evening Standard reported that in June of 2007, he had spoken at a rally in Trafalgar Square at which another speaker praised terrorism and at which the banners of a separate banned Sikh terror group – Babbar Khalsa – were on open display. That group was implicated in the bombing of an Air India plane off the coast of Ireland with the death of all 329 crew and passengers.

Last night, friends of Mr Singh – awarded the OBE in 2000 for services to the NAO, equal opportunities and the Sikh community -denied he had been a member of the Sikh youth organisation and said he had always campaigned peacefully for a ‘Khalistan’ independent Sikh state. 

They also insisted the ISYF should never have been outlawed and that the ban was lifted by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2016.

One Labour MP who knows Mr Singh yesterday called on Sir Keir to ‘sort this out’, suggesting inexperience in his office had led to the confusion.

Last month, ITV political editor Robert Peston tweeted he was ‘a controversial figure in India’. Mr Peston added that a leading figure in the Hindu community in the UK had told him the peerage would ‘outrage’ the government of India.

The Sikh Federation UK condemned what they called a ‘hate campaign’ against Mr Singh.

The Prime Minister had been due to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26 but he cancelled the visit amid the worsening pandemic crisis here. The Labour Party and Mr Singh declined to comment.

But a party source said the decision to withdraw the nomination was taken ‘when we were made aware of new information about Mr Singh’s background’.


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