Senior unionist denies racism accusations over 'cancelled' Kamala Harris tweet

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Senior Unionist Denies Racism Accusations Over 'Cancelled' Kamala Harris Tweet Senior Unionist Denies Racism Accusations Over 'Cancelled' Kamala Harris Tweet
Lord Kilclooney has been accused of racism towards US vice president-elect Kamala Harris. Photo: AP
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By Press Association

Former Ulster Unionist politician John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, has denied accusations of racism for describing US vice president-elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.

There were calls for action against the former deputy leader of the party over his tweet - now removed - about Ms Harris, who is the first black and Asian-American person to be elected to the role.

After Mr Taylor's post received significant criticism from the public and senior politicians, the 82-year-old peer tweeted: “This tweet is cancelled.”

On Monday, he had tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”

The crossbench peer insisted there was “nothing racist” about his Twitter post, but later wrote he had “withdrawn” his reference to “her as an Indian”.

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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.

Mr Taylor 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.”

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Taylor said: “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.

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“She’s proud of her Indian roots just as Biden’s proud to say he’s Irish.”

'Offensive'

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.”

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.”

A shadow minister in the UK Labour Party, Wes Streeting, said “action must be taken” over the peer’s tweet.

“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,” Mr Streeting tweeted.

Mr Taylor has previously denied being racist after calling Mr Varadkar, who was then taoiseach, a “typical Indian”.

In 2018, he tweeted “typical Indian” in response to a tweet about criticism of Mr Varadkar, whose father is from India, during a visit to Northern Ireland.

He justified that tweet by saying: “I didn’t know his name at the time.”

This is an offensive way to refer to anyone, let alone a woman who has just made history

The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler or Peter Fowler, has said Mr Taylor “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,” Mr Fowler added.

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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 Mr Taylor to say “you should be ashamed of yourself”.

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