France’s lower house of parliament suspended its session on Thursday after a right-wing MP shouted: “Go back to Africa!” when a far-left black lawmaker asked a question about immigration.
The comment caused quite an uproar. The center government and the left-wing alliance said it was an unacceptable racist slur. The far-right claimed that MP Gregoire de Fournas did not aim the words at the MP who asked the question, Carlos Martens Bilongo, but at migrants stranded on an NGO boat.
“There is no place for racism in our democracy. The Bureau of the National Assembly will meet (on Friday) and should decide on the necessary sanction,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters after the incident.
De Fournas, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), and his party claimed he said nothing wrong.
He was “apparently talking about the migrants transported in boats by the NGOs,” Le Pen tweeted. “The controversy created by our political opponents … will not deceive the French.”
Bilongo saw it very differently, calling the comment “disgraceful”. “Today I was sent back to my skin color. I was born in France. I am a French deputy,” he said.
Stephane Sejourne, who leads President Emmanuel Macron’s Center Party, said de Fournas should resign and the leftist Nupes alliance said he should be expelled.
In recent years, Le Pen has made great strides in detoxifying her party’s image and convincing voters that the party founded by her father Jean-Marie, who was convicted several times of inciting racial hatred, has moved toward the conservative mainstream and now fit to rule.
With 89 legislators, the RN is the second largest party in parliament.
A close ally of Le Pen, Jordan Bardella, is expected to take over as party leader on Saturday – even if Le Pen is still calling the shots.
“The National Rally has shown its true face today,” Nupe’s left-wing alliance said in a statement. “This racist slur is characteristic of the far right: stigmatize according to the color of your skin, divide the French people.”