The PM was warned that traditional Order of the British Empire medals would deter many worthy recipients from black and ethnic minority communities (BAME) from accepting gongs.
Liberal Democrat leadership contender Layla Moran said the creation of a more ‘inclusive’ award omitting reference to the country’s imperial past was all the more important in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the Windrush scandal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) is being urged to back a new ‘empire-neutral’ public honour as part of plans to reward the heroes of the fight against coronavirus this autumn
She told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I am urging the Government to create a new honour to recognise courage in the face of coronavirus.
‘The reference to the empire increasingly repels some people from accepting the existing awards, and the Government must not force anyone to think twice about getting the honour they deserve.’
Ms Moran stressed that she was not calling for the traditional OBE system to be scrapped, as many people had no objection to receiving empire-related honours.
The Prime Minister announced two months ago that the Queen’s Birthday Honours list – normally unveiled in June – would be postponed until the autumn to allow people in the front line against Covid-19 to be included.
The postponed list is widely expected to include awards to many people from BAME communities.
Oxford MP Ms Moran paid tribute to the ‘heroic bravery’ shown by front-line workers – saying that many were ‘from overseas and BAME communities [who] have put their own safety at risk to help the most vulnerable and deserve to be honoured’.
But she added: ‘Some people are worried about the connotations, especially after the Windrush scandal and the Black Lives Matter protests, but it is critical we find a way to pay proper tribute to those who went above and beyond.
‘I think the Government should ask the Honours Committee to look at this and come back with a proposal. No one who is worthy of an honour should miss out.’
Earlier this year, Labour MP Lisa Nandy – now Shadow Foreign Secretary – called for the removal of references to empire, saying that it alienated people.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy (pictured) called for the removal of references to empire earlier this year, saying that it alienated people
She pointed to poet Benjamin Zephaniah’s decision to turn down an OBE in 2003 because it ‘reminded him of thousands of years of brutality’.
However, Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said last night that the proposed honours reforms were not necessary.
He said: ‘I can count on the fingers of one hand the people of colour who were not proud of either getting an honour or, even more importantly, their relatives getting an honour of this kind.’
A diversity review into who receives official recognition is already set to take place, although Cabinet Office sources indicated there were no plans to create a new type of honour.