Lord Kilclooney has denied being racist when he described US vice president-elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.
The former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) deputy leader, also known as John Taylor, was ordered to apologise and retract his tweet about Ms Harris, who is the first black and Asian-American person elected to the role.
The crossbench peer insisted there was “nothing racist” about his Twitter post, but later wrote he had “withdrawn” his reference to “her as an Indian”.
Whilst Biden is proud to be Irish and Harris is rightly proud of her Indian background I certainly withdraw my reference to her as an Indian as it seems to have upset some people. I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood.Racist NO.— Lord John Kilclooney (@KilclooneyJohn) November 9, 2020
“This tweet is cancelled”
Ms Harris, a senator from California, this weekend made history as the first woman to be elected vice president when voters chose her and Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump in the White House.
On Monday, Lord Kilclooney tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”
After his post received significant criticism from the public and senior politicians, the 82-year-old peer tweeted: “This tweet is cancelled.”
He added: “Whilst Biden is proud to be Irish and Harris is rightly proud of her Indian background I certainly withdraw my reference to her as an Indian as it seems to have upset some people.
“I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood.Racist NO.”
I’m in the business of making Northern Ireland a place where everyone feels at home. Identifying a person by their race is offensive. Self awareness is a great thing! https://t.co/Z1BVS0FV33— Arlene Foster #We’llMeetAgain (@DUPleader) November 9, 2020
“I’ve never had so many Twitter followers”
Speaking to the PA news agency, Lord Kilclooney added: “The first thing is to get it in perspective. The criticism is minor, the support is massive – I’ve never had so many Twitter followers in one day, ever.
“I’m very fond of India myself. I’m a member of the British India all-party group, I have two Indians (tenants) in my flats here in London and there’s nothing racist in it whatsoever.
“She’s proud of her Indian roots just as Biden’s proud to say he’s Irish.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said identifying a person by their race was “offensive”, adding that the peer should apologise.
She said in a tweet: “I’m in the business of making Northern Ireland a place where everyone feels at home. Identifying a person by their race is offensive. Self awareness is a great thing!
“Lord Kilclooney should know manners maketh man. We have suffered from stereotyping and insensitive words here. A real apology to vice president elect Harris is due. His words have been heard around the world. It harms Northern Ireland and our work to build a better future.”
This is disgraceful. First we had @BorisJohnson’s racist comments about President Obama – and now we have these shameful comments from Lord Kilclooney about the inspirational Vice President elect Kamala Harris. Westminster is an embarrassment to the world. https://t.co/izUPrwj5WY— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) November 9, 2020
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted: “This begrudging apology isn’t good enough. Westminster must suspend Lord Kilclooney and instigate a standards investigation.
“Boris Johnson must finally take responsibility for his comments too. This culture of everyday racism has been allowed to continue unhindered. It must end.”
Lord Kilclooney deleted a tweet in 2018 which described then-Irish premier Leo Varadkar as a “typical Indian”.
He justified that tweet by saying: “I didn’t know his name at the time.”
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
The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said Lord Kilclooney “should retract and apologise” for his latest post after senior politicians said they would lodge complaints.
“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 Fowler added.
The comments came as Boris Johnson’s Government seeks to foster a close relationship with the incoming administration, with the handover coming at a crucial time as the UK tries to broker a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
Jon Wolfsthal, a former adviser to Mr Biden, tweeted Lord Kilclooney to say “you should be ashamed of yourself”.
Ms Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, will become the highest-ranking woman to hold an elected office in the US when the Democrat is inaugurated on January 20.