The BBC’s Question Time descended into chaos last night after an audience member claimed Britain was ‘one of the least racist societies in Europe’.
The man made the claim as he dismissed the idea that Brexit was about shutting out foreigners, arguing that people from places like Singapore and Malaysia would now be welcomed.
But he was berated by panellist George Mpanga, a performance poet, and another audience member who jibed: ‘It is funny that you’re a white man saying that.’
The exchanges took place during a debate on the new post-Brexitimmigration system proposed by Theresa May earlier this week – when the PM reiterated her determination to cut net inflows down below 100,000 a year.
They sparked a wider row among the crowd, with people weighing in to brand each other racist – and the fury soon spread to social media with trenchant opinions expressed on both sides.
One user branded the man in the audience an ‘idiot’, but others said he was entitled to hold views on whether the UK public was racist.
Some people cited academic research suggesting that Britain is indeed among the least racist countries in the world.
The spat began when Mpanga said ‘xenophobia is something a lot of British people harbour in their hearts.. you haven’t heard a single person of colour from this audience shout me down for that’.
But one woman immediately intervened to say: ‘It’s not xenophobia at all. I think anyone who’s not here legally has no right to be in this country.’
A man then challenge Mpanga: ‘George have you actually looked at the numbers? The UK is one of the least racist societies actually across Europe.’
Mpanga – who is known as George the Poet – retorted that he had been stopped by police as he sat outside his mother’s home earlier this year.
‘Oh thank you! I should have just explained that to the police officer,’ he jibed.
But the man replied: ‘They are talking about ending preferential treatment for Europeans, so we can take people from Singapore and Malaysia and Thailand to come in. That is an open policy.’
A woman in a headscarf then chimed in to say: ‘It’s funny that you’re a white man saying that. It is actually hilarious.
‘You’re a white man saying there’s no racism in this country. How are you going to experience it, you are a white man?’
Someone else then shouted: ‘You are being racist.’
As the scenes threatened to spiral out of control, the woman shot back: ‘How am I racist?
‘You’re not the one walking down the street and being screamed at.
‘You’re not a young black man walking across the street being stopped by police. Don’t tell me to calm down.’
Host David Dimbleby was left struggling to rein in the tensions.
‘Can we restore a bit of order please?’ he pleaded.