A French far-right MP who shouted ‘go back to Africa’ at a black lawmaker has been suspended for 15 days and had his pay cut after outraging the political world.
France‘s National Assembly voted to sanction MP Gregoire de Fournas on Friday following his comments to 31-year-old Carlos Martens Bilongo, from a Congolese background, in what is the harshest penalty possible under its rules.
Mr de Fournas, a newly elected member of the National Rally, has denied any personal racist attack in the outburst, saying he was referring to a ship carrying rescued migrants in the Mediterranean.
It was only the second time in the history of France’s Fifth Republic, established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, that an MP had received such a rebuke.
Mr Bilongo gave a speech during a demonstration, organised by France Insoumise (LFI) to denounce the racist remarks directed at him, outside the National Assembly in Paris today.
Gregoire de Fournas (pictured), a newly elected member of the National Rally, has denied any personal racist attack in the outburst, saying he was referring to a ship carrying rescued migrants in the Mediterranean
France’s National Assembly voted to sanction Mr de Fournas on Friday following his comments to 31-year-old Carlos Martens Bilongo (pictured at a rally today to denounce the remarks) in what is the harshest penalty possible under its rules
The incident came as tensions over immigration are running high, with President Emmanuel Macron’s government promising a new crackdown amid accusations of failing to stem new arrivals or deport those whose residency requests are denied.
Mr Bilongo, 31, of the leftist France Unbowed party (LFI), was questioning the government Thursday on the request by the SOS Mediterranee NGO for Paris’s help in finding a port for the ship that rescued 234 migrants at sea in recent days.
‘It should go back to Africa!’ interrupted Mr de Fournas, a winegrower from the southwestern Gironde department, drawing gasps of shock from many in parliament.
In French, pronunciation is the same for the pronouns ‘it’ and ‘he’, which suggested to some that Mr de Fournas was targeting Mr Bilongo directly.
‘Racism, no matter its target, is a negation of the republican values that unite us in this assembly,’ its president Yael Braun-Pivet said after the vote.
The punishment comes as the RN prepares to vote Saturday on a successor to its leader Marine Le Pen, who backed her MP on Twitter by saying ‘the controversy created by our political opponents is obvious and will not fool the French people’.
Carlos Martens Bilongo, a 31-year-old from a Congolese background, was asking a question about climate change when he was verbally attacked on Thursday afternoon in the Paris National Assembly. Pictured: The national assembly today
Marine Le Pen backed her MP on Twitter by saying ‘the controversy created by our political opponents is obvious and will not fool the French people’
Le Pen has been working for years to shed her party’s extremist views and prove it can unite voters and govern as a mainstream party.
Le Pen challenged President Emmanuel Macron in this year’s presidential vote and then led her party to its best-ever performance in subsequent legislative elections, with 89 MPs.
While acknowledging a ‘gaffe’ by de Fournas, she told journalists Friday that ‘if a comment that lacks finesse justifies a suspension from parliament, there’s room for plenty of others’ in the assembly.
Mr de Fournas, who left the chamber immediately after the vote, reacted on Twitter saying ‘I am totally innocent… but respectful of the institution, and I accept’ its decision.
Mr Bilongo responded by telling BFM television that ‘I have always been deeply convinced the RN is racist, and this only proves it once again.’
The 27-year-old Jordan Bardella is the overwhelming favourite to win the party leadership Saturday over his only rival Louis Aliot, a party veteran and former partner of Le Pen.
Mr Bilongo gave a speech during a demonstration organised by France Insoumise (LFI) to denounce the racist remarks directed at him outside the National Assembly in Paris today
By stepping down as party chief, Le Pen will focus on presiding the RN group in parliament, where she will could have a powerful platform for a potential fourth run at the presidency in 2027.
Following Mr de Fournas’s comment, the duty vice-president, the equivalent of the Speaker, immediately asked: ‘Who is the MP who said that phrase? It’s not possible.’
There were chants of ‘Out, out, out!’ by Mr Bilongo’s colleagues, of the left-wing France Insoumis (France Unbowed) party.
Mr de Fournas had immediately tried to explain himself by saying he had been referring to ‘an African boat’ which had difficulty ‘getting back into port’.
It follows Ms Le Pen, who was runner up in presidential election this year, pledging to change the image of her notoriously racist party, which used to be called the National Front.
It was founded by Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is now a convicted racist and Holocaust denier.
It follows Ms Le Pen, pictured, who was runner up in presidential election this year, pledging the change the image of her notoriously racist party, which used to be called the National Front
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin suggested that Ms Le Pen’s racist party had not changed at all.
Mr Darmanin tweeted: ‘Racism of a member of the National Assembly: from the FN to the RN, the name changes, but the hideous references and despicable habits remain. What a disgrace.’
Mr Bilongo accused the RN of targeting him because of the colour of his skin.
He said: ‘Today, I was reduced to my skin colour. I was born in France, I am a French MP. We see the true face of the National Rally. It’s shameful. I thank all the MPs who have united with me’
Parliamentary authorities meanwhile said there would be a full investigation into Mr De Fournas’s words.
The RN celebrated its 50th birthday earlier this month, with Marine Le Pen saying it was ‘ready to govern’.
Her party won 89 seats in the National Assembly – its largest number ever, since Jean Marie Le Pen founded the party in 1972.