By Patrick Jackson & Merlyn Thomas BBC News, London
A far-right MP has been given a 15-day ban from France’s National Assembly for shouting “they should go back to Africa” as a black colleague talked about immigration.
Grégoire de Fournas of National Rally (RN) said his remark had not been aimed at Carlos Martens Bilongo but at migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.
Mr Bilongo said he had been born in France and the remark was “shameful”.
MPs voted on Friday to suspend him and dock half his allowance.
The decision is described as the harshest sanction available to the Assembly.
Mr Bilongo had been questioning the government about a request by the SOS Méditerranée non-governmental organisation for help in finding a port for 234 migrants rescued at sea in recent days.
The exact meaning of the National Rally MP’s remark is disputed, because theoretically he could have referred to more than one person. The official account of the session recorded his off-microphone remark as Qu’il retourne en Afrique – “he should go back to Africa” – but the plural Qu’ils retournent en Afrique sounds exactly the same.
When Mr de Fournas made his remark, the Speaker, Yaël Braun-Pivet, demanded to know who had spoken. Then, as MPs chanted “Out! Out! Out!”, she suspended the session, declaring, “This is not possible.”
Mr Bilongo, an MP from the the left-wing party France Unbowed (LFI), said: “Today it’s come back to the colour of my skin. I was born in France, I am a French MP.” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said there was “no room for racism” and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the MP should resign.
Mr de Fournas was adamant he had been referring to the “boat transporting migrants to Europe”, and party leader Marine Le Pen accused her political opponents of fabricating a vulgar outcry.
He later apologised to Mr Bilongo for “the misunderstanding” his comments had caused and if he had been hurt by them.
LFI leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon tweeted that the MP’s comments were “beyond intolerable” and he should be kicked out of the National Assembly.
Immigration featured prominently in the RN’s presidential and parliamentary election campaigns this year, with party leader Marine Le Pen proposing a referendum on major reductions in immigration if she became president.
In the parliamentary election in June, the party increased its presence in the National Assembly tenfold, winning 89 seats.