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Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
Hague fuels asylum row
Hague has been accused of
William Hague has denied playing the race card after saying the number of asylum seekers entering Britain was "out of control".

The Conservative leader told ITV's Dimbleby show he was not being racist or inflammatory when he used words such as "flooded" or "swamped".

Mr Hague added that there would be an increase in support for groups like the National Front unless politicians tackled the immigration issue.

But Home Secretary Jack Straw said Mr Hague was feeding extremism by "grossly exaggerating" the numbers of asylum seekers.

Language criticised

Both Labour and the Tories have been criticised for emotive language about asylum seekers in the run up to next week's local government elections, but the Conservatives have come in for extra flak for what has been seen as an attempt to score political points on the issue.

One audience member, herself from an ethic minority, appealed to the Opposition leader to soften the language he was using, saying she was feeling intimidated.

William Hague
William Hague: Denies racism
"Don't use words like flooding and swamping," she said. "It's wrong. We should put the issue in context," she added, saying the UK had a duty to house the persecuted.

Mr Hague responded: "The dictionary definition of a flood is a flow that is out of control.

"There is no question when we have more than 100,000 asylum seekers in the queue for processing their application that we have a flow that is out of control."

It was not making racism respectable to draw attention to the problem, he said. "I reject that totally. The majority of people who are asylum-seekers are white. We are not talking about a racist issue here at all."

Jack Straw: "Dangers of weak leadership"
To a complaint that there had been a National Front march in Birmingham last week, Mr Hague went on: "We would end up seeing more National Front marches in Birmingham if we failed to deal with these problems."

Earlier, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy accused Mr Hague using the immigration issue for political gain.

"He is seizing upon the worst of prejudices, and seeking to highlight them as issues that people should be casting their votes on," he said.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said the Opposition leader's comments showed up "the dangers of his weak leadership".

'Fed anxieties'

Mr Straw - who earlier this week witnessed the arrest of 10 illegal immigrants at Dover - said: "Pushed to the right by forces in his own party, he now justifies his stand by claiming that otherwise support for even more extreme views would grow.

"But pandering to the BNP and other such groups is no way to oppose them."

He added: "Mr Hague has fed the anxieties which can lead to extremism by grossly exaggerating the position on asylum and by irresponsibly opposing our sensible measures like the new civil penalty on hauliers."

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Straw witnesses immigrant arrests
09 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum row warning over elections
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tories deny 'racism' jibe
02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum vouchers spark protests
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