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UKIP AM Michelle Brown suspended from Senedd for using racist language

Michelle Brown was not in the Senedd for the vote to suspend her. Credit: Senedd TV

UKIP AM Michele Brown has been suspended from the Senedd for seven days for making a racist remark.

She described the Labour MP Chuka Umunna as a "coconut", claiming that his background made him think like a white person although he is black. Her comment was in a phone conversation recorded by a friend, who made it public when they subsequently fell out.

Chuka Umunna is a leading Labour campaigner for a referendum on any Brexit deal. Credit: PA

A cross party committee of AMs recommended the suspension and it was put to a vote by AMs after Michelle Brown's appeal against the committee's findings was rejected by a retired judge.

This is the first time that the committee has recommended a sanction like this, and it was not a decision we took lightly. In coming to this decision, we took account of all the mitigating circumstances, but nevertheless concluded that the breach was such that it warranted a significant sanction.

– Paul Davies AM, Assembly Standards of Conduct Committee

Michelle Brown herself was not in the Senedd but her party leader, Neil Hamilton spoke against her suspension.

We are not a self-selecting club in this Assembly with complete freedom to impose terms of membership upon it. We derive our right to sit here not from the approbation of our peers, but from the votes of the people, and excluding any member is a serious interference with the democratic rights of the people who are to be represented by us, depriving north Wales, in this particular instance, of one of its members.

Now, all parliaments, of course, have rules to exclude unruly members to maintain order and proceedings, without which we can't function properly. But very few other institutions around the world seek to exclude members for using objectionable words outside the relevant mssembly, let alone, as in this case, in a private telephone conversation between close friends never intended to be made public.

– UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton AM

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood suggested it was a problem that Michelle Brown will be back representing the North Wales electoral region in a week's time.

How can a member of this Assembly who has been found to be racist safely represent people of colour in her region? And the answer is that she can't, and I believe that that is a problem. Now, the leader of UKIP and the UKIP member on the [disciplinary] panel have accepted that their member was racist ... Racism is racism. It's unacceptable, it has no place in this institution or, indeed, this country.

– Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood AM
Neil McEvoy spoke against suspending Michelle Brown, saying that he loathed racism but that AMs shouldn't over-ride the voters' choice of representative. Credit: Senedd TV

But Neil McEvoy, who sits as an independent after being suspended from Plaid Cymru, disagreed with his former leader.

I loathe racism. Loathe it. Today, we're here to take a decision to throw out a democratically elected Member of this Assembly. Michelle Brown did make a racist comment in private. She was speaking in private on the telephone without knowing she was being recorded, with a person who liked what she said enough that he decided to work for her.

I don't think it's right for me, as a representative of South Wales Central, to vote to ban an Assembly Member for North Wales. We have a decision for deciding who should and should not be an Assembly Member, and that's called an election.

What I'm saying here is we have a democratically elected politician; the way to deal with these people is at the ballot box, and I firmly, firmly believe that. I reject virtue signalling.

– Independent AM Neil McEvoy

The motion to suspend Michelle Brown was passed by 38 votes to three.