Top Unite figure in row over call to spend defence cash on travellers

Unite union leadership contender Howard Beckett calls for UK’s multi-billion defence budget to pay for gypsy and traveller sites

  • Howard Beckett running to succeed Len McCluskey as Unite general secretary
  • He welcomed endorsement from Labour Black Socialists on Twitter
  • Groups said he wanted defence cash spent on making traveller sites ‘available’

A candidate for the leadership of one of Britain’s biggest unions sparked uproar over suggestions the UK’s defence budget should be diverted to pay for gypsy and traveller sites.

Howard Beckett is running to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite, whose membership includes thousands of defence workers.

But he suffered a backlash after his supporters claimed he would seek to slash military spending, putting jobs at risk.

In a statement announcing it would support Mr Beckett’s candidacy, campaign group Labour Black Socialists said: ‘He believes in a foreign policy that promotes peace not war.

‘The government has 143 military bases in 42 countries – money that could be spent on reinforcing flood defences, making sites available for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, support for youth within communities, support for women suffering from domestic and gender-based violence.’

Mr Beckett warmly welcomed the group’s endorsement, writing on Twitter: ‘To have the support of Labour Black Socialists is inspiring.’

Howard Beckett is running to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite, whose membership includes thousands of defence workers.

But he suffered a backlash after his supporters claimed he would seek to slash military spending, putting jobs at risk. Pictured is UK-made HMS Prince of Wales

Travellers were ordered off the ‘Queen’s front garden’ on Tuesday after they parked up to 30 caravans and motorhomes just a stones throw away from Windsor Castle.

When contacted by the Mail yesterday, he refused to distance himself from their claims that he believes the defence budget could be used to fund gypsy and traveller sites instead. Asked if Mr Beckett agreed, his spokesman declined to comment.

Labour former defence minister Kevan Jones last night said the comments would come as a surprise to Unite’s members working in the defence industry.

He said: ‘Thousands of Unite members play a vital role supporting our country’s defence. I think they will take a dim view of this suggestion by someone whose position is funded by their union subscriptions.’

Mr Beckett, faced controversy last month after he called for Home Secretary Priti Patel, the country’s most senior ethnic minority politician, to be deported.

He posted on Twitter: ‘Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.’

Amid widespread criticism of his remarks, Mr Beckett, who is a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, was suspended from the party.

Mr Beckett is Mr McCluskey’s closest lieutenant and is currently assistant general secretary. Mr McCluskey has announced he will retire later this year, after more than a decade at the helm. The contest to replace him is expected to conclude by the end of August.

The Daily Mail revealed earlier this year that Mr Beckett, who is demanding a wealth tax to pay for the pandemic, has his own property empire.

He owns at least three properties, including a flat in Bloomsbury, central London, bought for £640,000 without a mortgage six years ago.

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