EXCL DUP MP sparks race row for saying Irish PM is 'not Indian but a cowboy'

Posted On: 
27th November 2017

A top DUP MP has sparked a race row after he appeared to poke fun at the Irish prime minister's Indian heritage.

Paul Faith/PA Archive/PA Images
PA Images

Sammy Wilson was accused of exposing "a really dark side of unionism" for remarks he made at his party's annual conference.

The DUP Brexit spokesman said Leo Varadkar - whose father was born in Mumbai - and his foreign minister were "not Indian, they are a pair of cowboys" for the way they have approached Britain's departure from the EU.

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His comments referred to a previous row which saw peer and ex-Ulster Unionist Party member Lord Kilclooney forced to apologise after he referred to Mr Varadkar as “the Indian”.

The Taoiseach's father, Ashok, came to the UK from India in the 1960s to work as a doctor.

Mr Varadkar has angered the DUP in recent days by vowing to block Brexit talks from moving onto trade without written assurance that the Northern Irish border will not be hardened after Brexit.

Mr Wilson raised eyebrows this weekend when he weighed in on the debate at the DUP conference just outside Belfast. 

He told PoliticsHome: “As far as people of Northern Ireland are concerned, the way they have been interfering in our affairs, interfering in the referendum in the United Kingdom as a whole, they are not Indian they are a pair of cowboys.”

But Irish senator Neale Richmond - who speaks for the Irish senate on EU affairs and chairs its Brexit Select Committee - hit out at the remarks.

“For certain unionist politicians to be personalising it and bringing ethnicity or race or religion or anything else into it to diverge from the real issues is really unhelpful and very careless,” he told PoliticsHome.

“Lord Kilcooney withdrew his really distasteful remarks…  and I would have expected a long-standing MP like Sammy Wilson to know what is appropriate and inappropriate.”

He added: “The sense that Sammy Wilson would even make light of it is bizarre. I don’t see the need for these comments and they do no one any favours. 

“They bring out a really dark side in unionism that we saw come out in the wider UK as part of the Leave campaign and I would have thought Sammy Wilson knew better.”

Brussels today assured Irish foreign minister Mr Coveney that Brexit talks will not move into the next phase until there is “more progress” on the border issue.

The DUP meanwhile has vowed to block any attempt to create a new trade border in the Irish Sea - effectively cutting Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.

Theresa May has backed their stance and promised that Northern Ireland will not be left in the European customs union while the remaining nations quit.