Jack Straw's son Will, 39, apologises for 'blacking up' row

Jack Straw’s son Will, 39, who headed up Brexit Remain campaign apologises for ‘blacking up’ row as he lands top job at Prince Charles’s charity

  • Will Straw apologises to staff at Prince’s Trust International over ‘black up’ row
  • Ex-Remain head posted photo of himself with group known as the ‘Coconutters’
  • Mr Straw will lead charity helping young people in 13 Commonwealth countries
  • Some charity staff are dismayed at appointment due to his defence of the troupe

The former head of the Remain campaign has apologised for defending English folk dancers who ‘black up’ after he landed a high-profile job as a charity boss.

Will Straw, 39, who led Britain Stronger In Europe during the 2016 EU referendum, said sorry in an email to staff at Prince’s Trust International, where he starts as chief executive in October.

The Mail on Sunday understands that some staff at Prince Charles’s charity were dismayed at Mr Straw’s appointment because of his controversial defence of the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup, a troupe of Lancastrian clog dancers who blacken their faces in a tradition that dates back 160 years.

Will Straw wrote that after he and the Coconutters were criticised, they won support ‘from outraged Rossendale residents defending their tradition and urging our accusers to mug up on their history before making false accusations’

Mr Straw, the son of the former Home Secretary Jack Straw, was criticised six years ago after posting an image of himself on Twitter with the dancers, known as the ‘Coconutters’, when he was a Labour Election candidate in the marginal seat of Rossendale and Darwen.

He then wrote an article in a national newspaper that suggested that people who claim it is offensive for rural English dancers to blacken their faces are ignorant of history.

He wrote that after he and the Coconutters were criticised, they won support ‘from outraged Rossendale residents defending their tradition and urging our accusers to mug up on their history before making false accusations’.

He added: ‘It’s traditions from the past which give communities a sense of common identity for the present and the future. May the Coconutters continue for many years to come.’

But asked by the MoS last week whether he still supported the Coconutters’ practice of blacking up, Mr Straw said he had changed his mind and had apologised to his future colleagues.

Will Straw is the son of former Home Secretary Jack Straw, pictured above

‘Since 2014, I have reflected and learned a lot,’ he said. 

‘There is never a situation when blackface is acceptable. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused, and I have already shared this apology with my future colleagues.’

A spokesman for Prince’s Trust International said: ‘Last month, Mr Straw emailed his future colleagues with an apology for his remarks in 2014.’

Prince’s Trust International was established in 2015 and helps young people in 13 Commonwealth countries. 

Staff are also said to be nervous that the appointment of such a high-profile Remainer will politicise the charity. The Prince’s Trust last night said it ‘continues to be a non-partisan organisation’.

The Coconutters claim their routine, which is performed every Easter Sunday, harks back to a time when local miners danced as they emerged from pits with their faces blackened with coal dust.

But the controversy reignited last month when the Joint Morris Organisation, which represents the country’s 800 dancing ‘sides’, ruled that members must stop blacking up in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The Coconutters have rejected the ruling, saying their tradition is not connected with ethnicity or racial prejudice.

Mr Straw appeared destined to follow his father into frontline politics. 

But he failed to win Rossendale and Darwen for Labour at the 2015 General Election and then led the Remain campaign to defeat in the EU referendum.

Despite this, he was controversially awarded a CBE in David Cameron’s resignation honours.

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