Equality minister Harriet Harman welcomes the action, says no party should be allowed to have an apartheid constitution in 21st Century Britain
Tags: Race Relations Act, John Wadham, Harriet Harman
25th August 2009: The Equality and Human Rights Commission believes Britain’s far-right British National Party’s action of limiting the membership to those of an "ethnic origin", described as "indigenous Caucasian", is illegal; and has initiated proceedings against BNP leader Nick Griffin and two officials.
Even as the party called the move a "pathetic attempt" by the government’s equality watchdog commission to divert attention from its own problems, equality minister Harriet Harman welcomed the action before making it clear no party should be allowed to have an apartheid constitution in 21st Century Britain.
The BNP’s constitution, which was framed in September 2008, does not unambiguously use the word "white" when talking about restrictions on membership. The term is deployed in the section on the party’s political objectives: "It is… committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make-up of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948."
Available information suggests the commission has issued county court proceedings against the BNP after airing its concerns in June.
The commission had then also made it clear that BNP with “all white membership" could face a legal challenge to its membership rules and constitution, as these may breach the racial discrimination laws.
It said the BNP must provide written undertakings by July 20 that it would make changes to its criteria, or face a legal injunction.
The EHRC’s letter had referred to an article on the BNP’s official website "Is the BNP racist?" The article made reference to "the fact that the BNP has an all white membership".
"The exclusion from membership of individuals, whose ethnic origin is not listed constitutes unlawful discrimination on racial grounds," the letter, published on the watchdog’s website, said.
In a statement, the commission said: The BNP’s membership criteria appear to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regards as particular ‘ethnic groups’ and those whose skin colour is white. This exclusion is contrary to the Race Relations Act.
The commission believes the BNP’s constitution and membership criteria are discriminatory and, further, that the continued publication of them on the BNP website is unlawful. It has, therefore, issued county court proceedings against party leader Nick Griffin and two other officials.
The director of legal affairs at the commission John Wadham asserted the BNP has stated it was not willing to amend its membership criteria which they believe were discriminatory and unlawful.
He added the commission has a statutory duty to use regulatory powers to enforce compliance with the law, so they have issued county court proceedings against the BNP. However, the party still has an opportunity to resolve this quickly by giving the undertaking on its membership criteria that the commission requires.
Related story: BNP’s all white membership challenged by EHRC