A French lawmaker caused an uproar by shouting “Go back to Africa” during comments on the black law at a public parliamentary session on Thursday.
Grégoire de Fournas, a representative of the parliament from the National Rally (RN) party, interrupted Carlos Martens Bilongo, a representative of the far party France Unbowed (LFI) during the session of the Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the parliament.
Bilongo has been calling on the French government to cooperate with EU countries – especially Italy and the newly elected right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – to help several hundred African migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.
De Fournas interrupted him, shouting “go back to Africa.”
An uproar quickly erupted in the chamber, leading Yaël Braun-Pivet, President of the National Assembly, to temporarily suspend the session.
Bilongo and his team have described the shouting as a racist personal attack, although Fournas’ team said the intervention was actually aimed at the migrants in question.
“Today, some people are again putting my skin color at the center of the discussion. I was born in France and I am a French representative and I never thought that today I would be insulted [like this] in the National Assembly,” said Bilongo to reporters after the incident.
Mathilde Panot, the leader of France’s far-left party in the National Assembly, has demanded that de Fournas face the harshest penalty in French law – deportation. “Racists like him have no place in our parliament,” Panot said on Twitter.
De Fournas said he was referring to migrants, tweeting that France Unbowed had “taken away” his words with a “shameful deception.”
“My response is about the boat and the migrants, obviously not my colleague,” he tweeted.
According to the French phonetic rules, there is little sound difference between the sentences, “He should go back to Africa” and “They should go back to Africa” as de Fournas put it.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right RN party in France’s lower house, expressed her support for Fournas in a tweet.
“Grégoire de Fournas spoke clearly about the migrants being transported by boat by the NGOs mentioned by our colleague in his question to the government. The problem created by our political opponents is crude and will not deceive the French,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told reporters after the session that “racism has no place in our democracy.”
Parliament will hold a meeting on Friday to decide on de Fournas’ punishment. Dismissal, the most severe punishment given to a member of parliament, was given only once during the Fifth Republic of France, to the communist representative Maxime Gremetz for disrupting the parliamentary session in 2011, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.