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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Second Tory says sorry in race row
William Hague and Laurence Robertson
Hague told Robertson to retract his comments
An MP who backed controversial comments on race by fellow Conservative John Townend has been forced to apologise.

Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury, was told to say sorry, retract his remarks, and promise not to repeat them - or face being stripped of the Tory party whip.

We have had enough, we've got an election coming up, our job is to fight Labour

Ann Widdecombe
Shadow home secretary
He was given the ultimatum during a meeting on Tuesday described by party officials as "tough and uncompromising" and he issued a statement shortly afterwards.

Earlier the Conservatives promised "severe action" would be taken, insisting they had "had enough" of the party sniping.

Mr Robertson ran into trouble after describing Mr Townend's remarks as "basically true".

He said the Tory MP for Yorkshire East had raised "important issues" and claimed that "cramming" together different racial groups was making society difficult to manage.

Mr Townend had already been forced to apologise.

Mr Robertson's remarks had been a further blow to William Hague's efforts to draw a line under the continuing race row following a warning from former Tory prime minister Sir Edward Heath that it had become an election issue.

Sir Edward said the Tory leader "without doubt" should have expelled Mr Townend from the party, which he said was on the "extreme right".

Apology demanded

Veteran Tory rightwinger Lord Tebbit has also added his voice to the debate, saying he did not know of any "happy" multi-cultural society.

Their interventions came after Mr Hague moved to get what Tory sources called a "grovelling apology" from Mr Townend.

"We mean business about being an inclusive party which has no truck with racism," said Mr Hague.

"And we mean business about being a disciplined party determined to win the election."

Mr Hague was backed by shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, who told the BBC: "He's not putting up with any more nonsense from any angle of the party at all.

"He will clampdown on it wherever it occurs and therefore I'm quite sure that he will deal firmly with Laurence Robertson."

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo also supported the Tory leader, saying he had shown firm and effective action against Mr Townend.

I think this is just another fudge hoping just to bury the matter quietly

Lord Taylor

Mr Townend, in his apology statement, said he was "very sorry" for his remarks - but he has also insisted immigration and asylum are important issues on which he must speak out.

Open letter

Responding to rumours that the leading black Tory peer, Lord Taylor, may defect to Labour over the row, Mr Hague said he was being asked to sign an open letter from ethnic minority Tory candidates reaffirming their support for the Conservatives.

Lord Taylor, whose weekend comments on the controversy prompted a hardening of the Tory leader's line, expressed satisfaction that the two MPs had now apologised.

He said that he had achieved his goal in getting the party to "clearly state its commitment to a vision of Britain where racial intolerance and bigotry are totally unacceptable".

"I have made my point and am not currently planning to take the matter further," he said.

Lord Taylor
Lord Taylor : 'I have made my point'

It is understood action loomed against Mr Robertson after he ignored party advice not to express support for Mr Townend in public.

He told BBC Newsnight his colleague's comments were "basically true" but expressed offensively.

Mr Townend was raising important issues he said, adding: "Having too many people in different multi-racial groups makes society very difficult to manage, especially in certain parts of the country."

The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Today Lord Taylor said he has achieved his goal"
The BBC's Sean Ley
"This is a debate that has to be had at some point"
Former Conservative Chairman Lord Tebbit
"There's nothing racist about discussing whether a multicultural society is to the benefit of the country"
BBC News Online reports on the Tories' internal feud on race

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See also:

01 May 01 | UK Politics
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30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
01 May 01 | Scotland
30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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