A UK Independence Party member of European Parliament was yesterday (18 August) embroiled in a race row in Kent, days after Nigel Farage said he would stand for election in the county.
Farage confirmed on Tuesday (19 August) he had thrown his “hat in the ring” to contest the Kent seat of South Thanet, which is currently held by the Conservatives, in the UK’s 2015 general election. He will quit Brussels in favour of Westminster if elected.
South East MEP Janice Atkinson yesterday apologised for calling a UKIP-supporting woman of Thai origin a “ting tong from somewhere”. Her remarks were recorded by BBC South East Today after an interview. She was still wearing a microphone after the interview in Ramsgate, Kent.
Ting Tong was the name of a Thai transsexual mail order bride played by comedian Matt Lucas in popular sketch show Little Britain (see picture). She offers sex in exchange for, among other things, residency in the UK. Ting Tong is also a Thai colloquial term for a mentally ill person.
Elected in the 2014 EU elections, Atkinson is a substitute member on the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, which is responsible for the protection of minorities.
Last week Farage clashed with the BBC on a separate issue regarding allegations made by former MEP Nicki Sinclaire in the EU Parliament.
Another race gaffe
Atkinson’s gaffe is the latest race scandal to hit UKIP. In May, the party was forced to take out national newspaper adverts denying it was racist after widespread condemnation of its characterisation of Romanian immigrants.
Victim Fa Munday, a mobile food seller, told the BBC, “I'm from Thailand. I'm married to an Englishman and now I'm British. No-one has ever spoken about me like that before."
Husband Vincent Munday said the couple were withdrawing their UKIP membership. "I don't think UKIP are a racist party, but that comment certainly wasn't the brightest thing I've ever heard," he said.
Atkinson said, "I deeply regret the words I used and am incredibly sorry. I am devastated that I have caused hurt and apologise profusely to both Mr and Mrs Munday."
Farage to quit Brussels?
The UKIP leader, MEP for South East England since 1999, told EurActiv in JUne that if he wins a Westminster seat in the general election, he will quit the European Parliament. His seat would pass to the next UKIP member on the party list, without the need for another election.
He has represented South East England in the Parliament since 1999. Many of the leading UKIP candidates for the general election are also MEPs. Any who are elected will give up their seats.
They are looking to build on their triumph on the EU elections, which saw them return more MEPs than any other British party. A poll of marginal constituencies found last month that UKIP could take two seats from the Conservatives, including South Thanet, and come close to a third.
Writing in The Independent, Farage said his candidacy still needed to be approved by UKIP members.
He said, “The situation is that there will be a hustings in the constituency[...] at which the branch will decide who they wish to represent them.
"It may seem silly to some that the leader of a party would have to go through the process of being approved and selected but, I assure you, rank means nothing in UKIP."
The national elections have added significance for the UK and the EU, as Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a 2017 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, if elected.
Farage’s clash with the BBC
Farage last week wrote an open letter to Elizabeth Bryne about the BBC Panaroma special on UKIP she is producing.
He refused to co-operate with the making of the programme, and accused Byrne of “adopting a specific agenda, which clearly conflicts with the well accepted BBC principles that a programme for public consumption should be fair and balanced”.
"A Panorama programme aimed at explaining the workings of the EU, as your Charter obliges you to do, would be far more beneficial to the British people than a tedious BBC hatchet job at the behest of your pro-EU contacts,” he added.
It is thought the special will cover allegations made by former UKIP MEP Nicki Sinclaire.
Sinclaire used EU parliamentary privilege to accuse Farage of having extra-marital affairs. Because the accusations were made in the Parliament, she cannot be sued for libel.
She has been accused of holding a grudge against Farage after being passed up for promotion. She lost her seat in the 2014 EU elections.
A UKIP spokesman told the BBC, ""Janice has apologised for the words she used. UKIP in no way condones the use of language that may reflect prejudice or cause offence and we sincerely hope this matter can be resolved privately."
Nigel Farage's letter to Elizabeth Byrne, producer of the BBC Panorama special on UKIP follows below.
"Dear Elizabeth, RE: Panorama Rehash of Times Campaign Against UKIP
Thank you for your letter, the contents of which I have given careful consideration to and quite frankly are a rehash of a series of overtly hostile articles published in the Times during the run up to the May 2014 European Elections in which I hope you will note that over 4.3 million people voted for UKIP and we are now the biggest British party in the European Parliament.
Having established that your line of questioning is in no way original or 'fresh to the market', it is apparent from the tenor of your questions and the approach being taken by you that you are adopting a specific agenda which clearly conflicts with the well accepted BBC principles that a programme for public consumption should be fair and balanced.
Regretfully, the concept of Panorama as judge and jury on (last century and ten-year-old) allegations which have been well dealt with by me in the past does not fulfill the BBC's charter obligations, or for that matter, its role.
Accordingly, I can give you no further assistance and should point out to you that should you wish to proceed with this programme, I expect you to read out, without interruption, in full and without censorship, the entire contents of this letter.
As you well know, our party is now in receipt of at least two new supporters for every ex-Conservative supporter and I wonder if it is your Labour contacts that have interested you in this project, which has previously been utilised by a panicking Conservative Party.
A Panorama programme aimed at explaining the workings of the EU, as your Charter obliges you to do, would be far more beneficial to the British people than a tedious BBC hatchet job at the behest of your pro-EU contacts.
Finally, if you fail to read out and place on screen this letter in any programme you choose to broadcast, this will be brought to the attention of the BBC governors and of course OFCOM.
This letter is my final word on the matter so please do not continue the correspondence with me."
- May 2015: UK election
- 2017: Mooted date for UK referendum on EU membership.