23 Jun 2009

The British National Party could face legal action over its 'whites only' membership policy, a watchdog said yesterday.The party could be taken to court for three counts of discriminating on grounds of colour, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said.

If the BNP refuses to allow non-whites to join the party, it could face heavy fines, or its assets could be seized - making it almost impossible for them to fight elections effectively.

Senior party members, such as leader Nick Griffin, could even be imprisoned, if the courts so decided. The move comes two weeks after the BNP won its first seats in the European Parliament following a collapse in Labour support. The party has around 60 councillors across the country.

Their constitution says only those with 'indigenous Caucasian' racial backgrounds can become members of the party. It is believed to be the first time that race watchdogs have threatened a political party with legal action.

The commission said the party appeared to be guilty of three breaches of the Race Relations Act: not allowing non-whites to join the party, not allowing them to take jobs at the party, and not providing equal services to constituents based on the colour of their skin.

They said this amounted to discrimination on the grounds of race and colour, which is banned under the act.The EHRC called on the BNP to provide written undertakings by 20 July that it will make the required changes or it could face a legal injunction. If not they could bring a civil action against them at the High Court.
If the party still did not comply, judges could find it guilty of contempt of court, which could lead to fines or even jail for BNP leaders.

A spokesman for the watchdog said: 'This exclusion is contrary to the Race Relations Act which the party is legally obliged to comply with. The commission therefore thinks that the BNP may have acted, and be acting, illegally.

'The commission has required the BNP to provide a written undertaking that it will not discriminate contrary to the Race Relations Act in its employment and recruitment policies, procedures and practices.'

The commission said it was also concerned that the BNP's elected representatives may not intend to offer or provide services on an equal basis to all their constituents and members of the public irrespective of race or colour.

John Wadham, the Commission's legal director, said: 'The legal advice we have received indicates that the British National Party's constitution and membership criteria, employment practices and provision of services to constituents and the public may breach discrimination laws which all political parties are legally obliged to uphold.

'We await a response from the BNP to our letter before deciding what further action we may take. Litigation or enforcement action can be avoided by the BNP giving a satisfactory response to our letter.'
The commission has received around 50 calls from members of the public recently about the BNP's membership policy, although it is believed that officials were already looking into the issue.

But last night BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was elected as an MEP for the north west of England earlier this month, said the party's rules were 'entirely legal', adding: 'We are not discriminating on the grounds of colour'.

He claimed the party was an exempted organisation under the Race Relations Act, which protected organisations which represented minority groups.Mr Griffin said this meant 'ethnic groups who need special protection such as the English in their own country, who are now second class citizens' were 'entitled to discriminate on that basis and not on the grounds of colour'.

A spokesman for the BNP said: 'We are not going to respond to threats like this. We will look at it, but it is an entirely politically-motivated attack. 'I don't think we should be bullied by outside forces. They are asking us to change our whole political ideology.'


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