Page last updated at 18:57 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

BNP votes to ditch whites-only membership rule

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A journalist from The Times was thrown out of the meeting by security men

The British National Party has voted to scrap its whites-only membership rules after an extraordinary general meeting.

Members who had gathered in Essex voted to amend the party's constitution to let black and Asian people join.

The BNP had been threatened with a possible court injunction over its whites-only membership policy by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The party must now go back to court in March when a judge will decide if the new rules meet race relation laws.

It is thought the BNP has removed references to "indigenous British" people, paving the way for black and Asian people to be admitted to the party for the first time.

'Legal reality'

But a BNP spokesman said he could not comment on the precise wording of the new rules until they had been seen by Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) lawyers.

Anti-fascist group Searchlight said the membership rule change was "a meaningless gesture", adding that "no-one seriously believes that thousands of black and Asian Britons will now be queuing up to join Nick Griffin's party".

A spokesman for the group said: "The BNP are as racist and extremist as ever."

BNP leader Nick Griffin told the BBC News Channel: "We had to do it (change the constitution) for legal reasons. Many of our members think it's a good thing.

ANALYSIS
Ross Hawkins
Ross Hawkins
BBC political reporter
In the short term this dispute is costing the BNP money. The party has incurred legal fees, and it is barred from taking on new members until this is resolved.

If the BNP loses at the next court hearing it faces the possibility of an injunction forcing it to look again at its constitution.

Ignoring that could result in court sanctions. However this is a civil, not criminal, case and the EHRC cannot punish the party itself.

It certainly does not have the power to stop the BNP from contesting the general election.

Nick Griffin has tried to rally his members behind this fight with the EHRC. But he knows as the election approaches he will have to spend more time with his party's lawyers.

"A lot of people said we should have done it some time ago but that's really by the by.

"Our problem with this is a government funded, taxpayer-funded quango telling people who they can and can't associate with, [which] is a fundamental outrage.

"Nevertheless, we recognise legal reality, so we have done it and now, for one thing, they can't call us racist any more."

Mr Griffin also defended the forcible expulsion of a newspaper journalist from Sunday's meeting, saying the paper had previously written "lies" about the BNP.

The expulsion took place before the result of the vote was announced as Times journalist Dominic Kennedy was bundled out of the venue by BNP security guards.

Mr Kennedy said he had been invited to the meeting by party officials, but on arrival had been confronted by senior BNP member Richard Barnbrook, who is also a London Assembly member.

Mr Kennedy told the BBC News website "A number of BNP security people shoved me out of the room. I was hit in the back and had my nose grabbed."

He said he had not been hurt in the incident.

'Indigenous' Britons

Asked on the BBC News channel how the BNP could expect to be seen as a normal political party in the light of its behaviour towards a journalist, Mr Griffin said Mr Kennedy had been ejected because of Times "lies" about his party.

Nick Griffin: "We recognise legal reality... they can't call us racist anymore"

"He refused to leave when he was asked so he had to be encouraged to leave," said Mr Griffin.

He added: "We will carry on throwing The Times out until they report the truth. That's all we ask."

Mr Griffin and his party must now wait until next month to learn whether the changes to its rules will enable it to escape a court injunction.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had threatened the injunction against the BNP unless it changed rules limiting membership to "indigenous British" people.

However at a Central London County Court hearing last month, there were questions over whether amendments proposed to the party's constitution would go far enough to satisfy lawyers from the EHRC.

'Major obstacle'

On Sunday, the EHCR said it had not seen the changes to the party's membership rules but hoped that it was "no longer discriminatory".

An EHCR spokeswoman said: "We're expecting to see a copy of the policy on Tuesday, which is the deadline set by the court.

"When we've received this we will consider our position ahead of the next court hearing on 9th March."

BNP deputy leader Simon Darby said further changes had been made since the court hearing and the party now believed it had overcome the "major obstacle that has stopped us from complying with the law".

The section of the constitution that could viewed as discriminatory against potential ethnic minority members had been removed, he told BBC News.

But he said he could not comment on the precise wording until it had been seen by EHRC lawyers, which would happen within the next seven days.

He said Mr Griffin had the authority to make further minor changes to the wording if the EHRC was not satisfied.



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