A senior member of the House of Lords has sparked accusations of racism after he called Irish premier Leo Varadkar a “typical Indian”.
Former Ulster Unionist MP and ardent Brexiteer Lord Kilclooney came under fire over his tweet, which suggested that Varadkar had displayed “poor manners” during a visit to Northern Ireland on Monday.
Varadkar, whose mother is from Ireland and his father an Indian doctor, was born and bred in Dublin.
Baroness Smith, Labour’s leader in the Lords and a former Northern Ireland minister, told HuffPost: “This is shocking. Such offensive comments could never be considered appropriate - on Twitter or anywhere else.”
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain attacked Kilclooney’s remark as “racist” and said it underlined how thin were the arguments of those criticising the Irish government’s stance on Brexit and a hard border.
One Cabinet minister also told HuffPost that the tweet was “truly appalling and unacceptable”.
Downing Street said that Theresa May had not yet seen the remark, but stressed “the importance of anyone engaged in public debate being careful in the words they choose”.
Lord Kilclooney, formerly John Taylor MP, told BBC News NI he rejected “false accusations of racism”. He also said that he did not intend to withdraw the tweet.
He also stressed that he felt that Varadkar had been ‘provocative’ in staging his trip to Northern Ireland without consulting local politicians, even though the Northern Ireland Office had been informed.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long described the tweet as a “racist slur”, adding it was “insulting of not only the Taoiseach and the Irish people, but of Indian people too.”
Lords Speaker Lord Fowler was also facing calls to reprimand the 80-year-old peer, with Irish Senator, Sinn Fein’s Niall O’Donnghaile demanding action.
Others including SkyNews’ Faisal Islam ridiculed the tweet.
Lord Hain, who served as Secretary of State under Tony Blair, told HuffPost: “[This was] a racist jibe, springing from an unwillingness by too many Unionists to acknowledge that Varadkar is correct when he says that the only way to keep the Irish border open is to replicate the customs, trade, regulatory and rules of origin arrangements that keep it open now.”
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA Christopher Stalford tweeted: “I don’t know what John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) thinks he’s playing at but he doesn’t speak for me. Absolutely ridiculous behaviour.”
It’s the second time Kilclooney has been criticised over a tweet about the Irish premier, having described him as ‘the Indian’ in a post last year.
He later withdrew the tweet, and a complaint to the House of Lords standards commissioner was dismissed.
At the time, Varadkar hit back, saying: “One thing I have come to understand about politics is that when people don’t want to deal with you on substance and on facts they attack you personally and attack your style.
“The best way to deal with it is not rise to it and go back to the substance and to ask them 18 months after the referendum ‘show us your paper or your proposals’ - 20 years since you started to campaign to leave the EU.
“And that makes them very annoyed and they start having a go at you personally - so many of them haven’t thought this through.”
A spokeswoman for the Lords Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards pointed out that its code of conduct made clear that “a member’s views or opinions” were outside its remit.
There is also no catch-all rule barring conduct that brings the Lords into disrepute.