A member of the House of Lords has been accused of racism for referring to US vice-president elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.
Life peer Lord John Kilclooney, 82, a former Ulster Unionist MP from Northern Ireland, was criticised after he used the term in a tweet about Harris on Monday.
He tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes president. Who then becomes vice-president?”
What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?
— Lord John Kilclooney (@KilclooneyJohn) November 9, 2020
Harris was born in Oakland, California. Her late mother was from India, while her father was born in Jamaica.
She made history on Saturday when she became the first woman – and first woman of colour – to be elected US vice-president.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said that “action must be taken” over the life peer’s “unacceptable racism”.
He did it before to Leo Varadkar and now he's done it to Kamala Harris. This sort of racism would be unacceptable from anyone, but from a member of the House of Lords it beggars belief. Action must be taken. https://t.co/2JbWFbqr9r
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) November 9, 2020
SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said his tweet was “utterly abhorrent”. She added: “Racism through and through.”
Former Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Wollaston described Lord Kilclooney’s tweet as “deeply offensive” and said she had made a complaint to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards.
These comments are deeply offensive and it is not the first time he has used this kind of language. I have made a complaint to the Lords Commissioner for Standards. Here’s the link if you would like to join me https://t.co/PrWibJVE1n https://t.co/Btt0teUvuz
— Sarah Wollaston (@sarahwollaston) November 9, 2020
Norman Fowler, speaker of the House of Lords, said Lord Kilclooney should “retract and apologise” for the “offensive” tweet.
Lord Kilclooney should retract and apologise. This is an offensive way to refer to anyone, let alone a woman who has just made history. The comment is entirely unacceptable and has no place in British politics. I could not be clearer.
— Lord Speaker (@LordSpeaker) November 9, 2020
Lord Kilclooney denied accusations his tweet was racist.
He told Yahoo News UK: “I’ve had a record number of followers on Twitter today. A minority are critical.
“It’s certainly not meant to be racist. It’s not in the least racist because I’m very pro-Indian.”
Asked if he felt the need to apologise for his tweet, he said: “Not at all.”
Lord Kilclooney later deleted his tweet, posting another one saying: “This tweet is cancelled”.
Watch: Who is Kamala Harris?
Two years ago, Lord Kilclooney was forced to apologise and delete a tweet in which he called Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a “typical Indian”.
He claimed he was not being racist but that people had tried to “misrepresent” his tweet.
Varadkar was born in Dublin, while his father was born in India.
I won’t share that tweet from Lord Kilclooney but it is utterly abhorrent. Racism through and through. And this isn't a one off, he has made the same comment about Varadkar for years. He must withdraw his comments immediately and issue an apology.
— Sinead McLaughlin (@SMcLaughlinmla) November 9, 2020
Lord Kilclooney said at the time: “I regret the misunderstanding of my brief tweet.
“Had it been an Englishman I would equally have stated ‘typical English’ as they know little about politics in this island. Not racist as is confirmed.”
Varadkar said he initially thought the Twitter account of Lord Kilclooney was a parody.
“It actually is for real, but that’s all I’ll say about that,” he said.
Watch: Kamala Harris pays tribute to women