Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 13:04 UK

BNP dismisses legal action threat

BNP leader Nick Griffin responds to the threat of legal action

The British National Party has dismissed threats of legal action over its membership policies by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The commission said it had written to the party over possible breaches of the law in the BNP's constitution, membership rules and recruitment.

It asked the BNP to pledge to comply with the Race Relations Act by 20 July or face a potential legal injunction.

But BNP leader Nick Griffin said the party's rules were "entirely legal".

Mr Griffin - who was elected as an MEP for the North West on 4 June - said the BNP was an exempted organisation under Section 25 and Section 26 of the Race Relations Act.

He said this meant "ethnic groups who need special protection such as the English in their own country, who are now second class citizens" were "entitled to discriminate on that basis and not on the grounds of colour".

He added: "We are not discriminating on grounds of colour."

On 4 June, the BNP won their first two MEPs in the European Parliament elections.

'Deliberate omission'

In a statement, the commission said the BNP's constitution and membership criteria appeared to discriminate on the grounds of race and colour, in breach of the Race Relations Act.

The party's rules appeared to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regarded as particular "ethnic groups", the commission added.

It also said the party's website asked job applicants to supply a membership number, which appeared to be in breach of legislation banning the "refusal or deliberate omission to offer employment on the basis of non-membership of an organisation".

The statement added: "The commission is therefore concerned that the BNP may have acted, and be acting, illegally."

John Wadham, the commission's legal director, insisted it had a duty to take action against possible breaches of anti-discrimination laws.

He said: "The legal advice we have received indicates that the British National Party's constitution and membership criteria, employment practices and provision of services to constituents and the public may breach discrimination laws which all political parties are legally obliged to uphold."

The commission said it had received around 50 recent calls from members of the public about the membership policy of the BNP, although it is understood it was already investigating the party.

Teachers

The BNP's Deputy press officer John Walker said the party would not be making a formal response to the commission at this stage as it wanted to "wait until the Equalities Bill has gone through".

"We are not going to respond to threats like this. We will look at it, but it is an entirely politically-motivated attack," he told BBC News.

The Equalities Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, is expected to include a move to outlaw the BNP's membership policy, which is limited to various groups it defines as "indigenous Caucasian".

Mr Walker said the BNP would be prepared to change its membership rules "to remain within the law".

But he added: "I don't think we should be bullied by outside forces. They are asking us to change our whole political ideology."

On Monday, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was considering banning teachers in England from joining the BNP.

In its constitution, the BNP says it exists to represent the "collective National, Environmental, Political, Racial, Folkish, Social, Cultural, Religious and Economic interests of the indigenous Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse folk communities of Britain and those we regard as closely related and ethnically assimilated or assimilable aboriginal members of the European race also resident in Britain".

It says membership of the BNP is "strictly defined within the terms of, and our members also self define themselves within, the legal ambit of a defined 'racial group' this being 'Indigenous Caucasian' and defined 'ethnic groups' emanating from that Race".



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