Lord Kilclooney accused of racism over tweet about Kamala Harris

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
·4-min read

Lord Kilclooney has been accused of racism for describing US vice president-elect Kamala Harris solely as “the Indian”.

The former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) deputy leader, John Taylor, was ordered to apologise and retract his tweet about Ms Harris, who is the first black and Asian-American person to be elected to the role.

The crossbench peer, who previously deleted a tweet describing then-Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a “typical Indian”, insisted there was “nothing racist” in his latest message.

Ms Harris, a senator from California, this weekend made history as the first woman to be elected vice president when voters chose her and Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump in the White House.

On Monday, Lord Kilclooney tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”

The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said the peer “should retract and apologise” after senior politicians said they would lodge complaints.

“This is an offensive way to refer to anyone, let alone a woman who has just made history. The comment is entirely unacceptable and has no place in British politics. I could not be clearer,” Lord Fowler added.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who is chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland affairs select committee, wrote that the message was “Bad. Rude. Racist. Appalling” and said he had submitted a formal complaint to the Lord Speaker’s office.

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, added: “I am so angry about this comment. It is despicable and beneath contempt, and totally unacceptable from anyone – but especially from someone in Parliament.”

UUP leader Steve Aiken stressed the peer had not been a member of the party “for at least a decade” as he criticised the “reprehensible” remarks.

“There is simply no excuse for it. He should delete what he has said and apologise. This isn`t the first time he has done something like this, but it should be the last,” Mr Aiken said.

Labour shadow minister Wes Streeting added: “He did it before to Leo Varadkar and now he’s done it to Kamala Harris. This sort of racism would be unacceptable from anyone, but from a member of the House of Lords it beggars belief.”

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy added: “She is called Kamala Harris. Please send this awful comment straight back to the dark ages.”

Comedian Nish Kumar tweeted: “This guy is a life peer. What a country.”

Lord Kilclooney denied that his message was racist.

He told the PA news agency: “The first thing is to get it in perspective, the criticism is minor, the support is massive – I’ve never had so many Twitter followers in one day, ever.

“I’m very fond of India myself, I’m a member of the British India all-party group, I have two Indians (tenants) in my flats here in London and there’s nothing racist in it whatsoever.

“She’s proud of her Indian roots just as Biden’s proud to say he’s Irish.”

He justified his previous tweet about Mr Varadkar by saying “I didn’t know his name at the time” but, asked if he would delete his latest message now he knows Ms Harris’s name, he said: “No, not indeed. Because she’s proud of her Indian background.”

The 82-year-old peer said that he did not try to find out her name online before writing the tweet.

Asked why he did not use a search engine before sending the message, he replied: “That’s not your concern.”

He later tweeted that he would “certainly withdraw my reference to her as an Indian as it seems to have upset some people” but had not deleted the tweet in question.

The comments came as Boris Johnson’s Government seeks to foster a close relationship with the incoming administration, with the handover coming at a crucial time as the UK tries to broker a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Jon Wolfsthal, a former adviser to Mr Biden, tweeted Lord Kilclooney to say “you should be ashamed of yourself”.

Ms Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, will become the highest-ranking woman to ever hold an elected office in the US when the Democrat is inaugurated on January 20.

In 2018, Lord Kilclooney tweeted “typical Indian” in response to a message about criticism of Mr Varadkar, whose father is from India, during a visit to Northern Ireland.