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UK far-right party lifts ban on non-whites

The leader of the BNP says he expects a 'trickle rather than a flood' of applications from black and Asian people after the party is forced to change its rules.

Rajinder Singh is expected to be the first non-white member of the BNP.
Rajinder Singh is expected to be the first non-white member of the BNP.

LONDON // The far-right British National Party has voted to drop its "whites only" membership rule after being threatened with legal action. The party, which won the second highest number of votes in the United Kingdom in last year's European Parliament elections, is believed to have removed a clause in its constitution limiting membership to "indigenous Caucasians". Rajinder Singh, a 78-year-old Sikh who emigrated from the Punjab more than 40 years ago, is now expected to become the BNP's first non-white member.

Mr Singh, a retired teacher, is a long-time supporter of the BNP because of its stance against Muslim "colonisation" of Britain. He claims that Islam is based on "deception, fraud and surprise attack". Nick Griffin, the party leader, said he expected Mr Singh to be the first non-white to join the BNP ranks after a special meeting of the membership voted for the change late on Sunday. "I will be absolutely delighted to shake his hand and give him his membership card," Mr Griffin said.

The move was forced on the party by the Central London County Court late last year. The court told the BNP to amend its constitution to comply with race relations laws or face legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Mr Griffin said the revised constitution would be handed to the commission by tomorrow and that lawyers from both parties would return to court early next month to have it formally approved.

Mr Griffin told Sky News that he expected a "trickle, rather than a flood" of applications from black and Asian people. He added: "Anyone can be a member of this party. We are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British." However, Weyman Bennett, national secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said: "I think that regardless of the vote, the changes are cosmetic and have only happened because the courts forced them to stop racist practices."

A spokesman for Searchlight, another anti-fascist group, described the vote as a "meaningless gesture". "No one seriously believes that thousands of black and Asian Britons will now be queuing up to join Nick Griffin's party. The BNP are as racist and extremist as ever." The spotlight will now fall on Mr Singh, whose hatred of Muslims appears to stem from the fact that his father was killed by them during the partition of India in 1947.

Mr Singh, who wears a turban only when being photographed by the media because "the message carries more weight" if he does, has repeatedly voted for the BNP and even gave Mr Griffin a character reference when he was put on trial in 2005 for inciting racial hatred. "It's a natural process in the Muslim psyche, to take over. The fear of Islam is well founded, well justified," he told The Times last year. "I don't hate Muslims. By definition a Sikh is supposed to love all - even your enemy."

In an interview with The Guardian last week, Mr Singh repeated his belief that Muslims are dangerous and that Britain is in danger of becoming an Islamic republic. "Most of them behave very nicely but suddenly, when they get together in the mosque and listen to the preaching, they acquire a collective identity that is formidable. It's the collective being that frightens me," he said. Mr Singh supports BNP policies, including the voluntary repatriation of immigrants, which he describes as "something excellent, something supreme" and which he says would result in only people loyal to Britain staying in the country.

On the BNP policy of giving priority to "native Britons" in the jobs market, he says that, unofficially, that has always been the case and so formalising it in law would make little difference. Asked if he thought the party was racist, he replied: "Pre-amendment [to the constitution], yes. They are trying to soften up. Shouldn't the nation welcome that? "It's a positive move if they get people like me. And if I'm sitting in a BNP meeting, they won't say: 'Throw all of them out' because they'll realise one of 'them' is among 'us'."

There are fears that Mr Singh's recruitment by the BNP might lead to other Hindu and Sikh immigrants - in whose communities Islamophobia is not uncommon - being tempted to join the party. However, a senior Labour Party worker said yesterday: "That simply will not happen. There might be a few, like Javinder Singh, who can't see beyond their feelings towards Muslims, but I am pretty sure that most will realise they have much more to fear from the BNP.

"Besides, however much they say they have changed the constitution, it would be hard to imagine most BNP members welcoming a rush of brown and black faces into their ranks." dsapsted@thenational.ae