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The BBC's Tim Franks
"Three Conservatives MP's have already said they are not signing"
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The BBC's John Pienaar
"The changing face of Britain has raised serious issues"
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Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary
"The Tories need to put forward a positive message"
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John Gummer, Conservative MP
"This is wholly unconstitutional"
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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Tories reject Cook race claim
William Hague and Robin Cook
Hague and Cook trade accusations on race
Conservative leader William Hague has rejected Labour accusations he is to blame for controversial outbursts on race by party members.

The charge, made by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, follows the outcry over East Yorkshire Tory MP John Townend's claim that immigrants were undermining the UK's "homogenous Anglo-Saxon society".

Our quarrel is simply with the workings of the asylum system

William Hague
But Mr Hague, who last month said Britain would become a "foreign land" under a re-elected Labour government, accused the foreign secretary of "trying to misrepresent the views of the Conservative Party".

The pressure on Mr Hague was increased when it emerged three of his MPs have refused to sign a Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) pledge designed to ensure a racism-free election campaign.

Safe haven

The Tory leader said: "Our quarrel is simply with the workings of the asylum system and I think our concerns are shared by the great majority of people in this country.

"It's not racist to say that, it's nothing to do with any racist attitude.

"It's simply saying that when we have rules they should be properly enforced, that this country should be a safe haven for people fleeing persecution but not a soft touch."

If William Hague really wants to stamp out racism in his party, he should lead by example

Robin Cook
Foreign Secretary
According to the CRE's Gurbux Singh the three MPs refusing to sign its pledge are Mr Townend - who is standing down as an MP - plus former minister Eric Forth and James Cran, a Tory whip.

That report prompted Labour to call on Mr Hague to sack Mr Cran.

But Tory vice-chairman Steve Norris said he thought the three MPs had their reasons.

"I do not believe those reasons are actually founded in any belief in racism.

"I think they probably tend to have more to do with a belief in libertarianism."

Chicken tikka masala

The political race row was re-ignited by the a speech delivered by Mr Cook to the Social Market Foundation in London on Thursday night.

He argued that the British were not a race "but a gathering of countless different races and communities, the vast majority of which were not indigenous to these islands".

The status of chicken tikka masala as a "national dish" in the UK was used to illustrate his argument.

Mr Cook turned on Mr Hague's prediction - made at a speech in Harrogate last month - that a second Labour term would turn the UK into a "foreign land"

And although he welcomed Tory chairman Michael Ancram's letter to all his party's prospective parliamentary candidates warning them not to make racist statements, Mr Cook added: "I can only regret they found it necessary."

Leadership blamed

The foreign secretary said no other major party would have needed to take such a step.

"The Tory leadership cannot avoid taking its share of the blame," he said.

"In the last few months they have warned that Britain is in the process of becoming 'a foreign land', that we are being 'flooded' by asylum seekers and that foreign doctors are putting the lives of British patients at risk.

"If William Hague really wants to stamp out racism in his party, he should lead by example."

Michael Ancram
Ancram: Warned candidates on racism
However, the comments were attacked by Mr Ancram as "a vicarious way of playing the race card which I think is quite ridiculous and should be condemned".

Mr Ancram defended his letter to Tory candidates, insisting it was only to spell out the terms of the CRE election pledge, which has been signed by all main party leaders.

He said Mr Hague's "foreign land" remarks were centred on the European Union, not immigration or asylum seekers.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "It is true that William Hague's Harrogate speech gave a green light to more racist attitudes in the Tory party - and he is bright enough to have known it.

"But Labour were not guiltless for the first three years of this parliament."

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tory candidates warned over racism
04 Apr 01 | UK Politics
MP defends race comments
28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Hague rebukes Tory MP over race
10 Mar 01 | Scotland
Cook warns Tories over race campaign
01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Hague attacked over race record
05 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tory critics round on Hague
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