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French MP faces suspension over ‘racist’ comment in Parliament

Grégoire de Fournas appeared to tell a black MP to ‘go back to Africa’, but insists he was talking about people arriving in Europe on small boats

A Rassemblement National MP faces temporary suspension after saying in the Assemblée nationale that migrants should ‘go back to Africa’, a comment which initially appeared to be aimed at the Black MP who was speaking at the time Pic: StudioPhotoLoren / Shutterstock

A right-wing French MP faces being suspended from sitting in Parliament after claims – which he disputes – that he told a black MP to 'go back to Africa' during a speech on illegal immigration last night in the house.

While La France Insoumise MP Carlos Martens Bilongo spoke in front of the Assemblée of the “tragedy of illegal immigration” and people smuggling in the Mediterranean, Gironde Rassemblement National MP Grégoire de Fournas exclaimed “Qu’il(s) retourne(nt) en Afrique”. 

This provoked outrage among other MPs, who seemingly initially believed Mr de Fournas to be saying “Qu’il retourne en Afrique”, telling Mr Bilongo to go back to Africa. 

Yaël Braun-Pivet, the president of the Assemblée nationale, asked who had said the phrase, but could hardly be heard over the shouts in the chamber, and the session was suspended. 

While leaving the Assemblée, Val d’Oise MP Mr Bilongo said: “I am an MP of this nation and to insult me is absolutely shameful. 

“I was born in France, I am a French MP and I did not think that in this day and age I would be insulted in the Assemblée nationale [...] We are seeing the true face of Rassemblement National.”

However, Rassemblement National issued a statement insisting that Mr de Fournas had said “Qu’ils retournent en Afrique,” aiming his comment at migrants arriving in Europe and not at the La France Insoumise MP. 

Mr Bilongo accused Rassemblement National of “twisting his words to justify the unjustifiable,” asking: “Would it have been more acceptable [to be talking about] refugees [...] in a critical situation?”

Mr de Fournas has written to Mr Bilongo, saying: “I would never have uttered, nor tolerated, a racist comment or insult made about you.” 

Several French people told The Connexion that it is extremely hard to distinguish whether Mr de Fournas said “Qu’il retourne en Afrique” or “Retourne en Afrique,” while many said they only hear “Retourne en Afrique,” which is an imperative translating to ‘Go back to Africa’. 

‘Racism has no place in our democracy’

The president of La France Insoumise, Mathilde Panot, said last night that she would seek “the most serious penalty” for Mr de Fournas, perhaps an “exclusion lasting several months”. 

The party’s public relations officer Juliette Prados told The Connexion the party considered the remark to be directed toward Mr Bilongo, and that this view was “in line with the perception of all members of the Assemblée nationale,” she added.

The Bureau de l’Assemblée nationale, which manages the internal affairs of the chamber, will meet today (November 4) at 14:30 to discuss their response. Suspending an MP from the Assemblée is the most serious sanction that can be applied.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has commented: “Racism has no place in our democracy”. 

Mr Bilongo has said that he hopes that the penalty imposed will make an “example” of the views expressed. 

“One thing is for certain,” regardless of whether the Rassemblement National MP said “Qu’ils” or “Qu’il retourne(nt) en Afrique,” his meaning was “racist”. 

“He insulted me, he insulted the millions of French people who look like me,” he told Franceinfo.

Mr de Fournas, for his part, has said that he “stands by [his] comments on our country’s anarchical migration policy”. 

Since he made his comment in the Assemblée nationale, it has been reported that Mr de Fournas has deleted several tweets published previously on the subject of immigration, African and Jewish people. 

For example, in 2017 he had written that: “In Africa, they all love France and its [state] benefits. Are we going to be welcoming the whole of Africa?!” 

In the same year, Gironde departmental councillor Jacques Breillat had confronted Mr de Fournas about his social media posts, as news website Rue89 Bordeaux reported. 

Mr de Fournas' comment, whoever it was directed to, resonates with with ideology of politician Henri de Lesquen, who popularised the far-right idea of 'remigration': forcing non-ethnically European immigrants - and sometimes their descendants - to return to their place of racial origin, regardless of citizenship status.

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