A right-wing French lawmaker caused an uproar by shouting “Go back to Africa” during comments by a black lawmaker in a parliamentary session broadcast to the public on Thursday.
Grégoire de Fournas, parliamentary representative of the National Rally party (RN), interrupted Carlos Martens Bilongo, a representative of the extreme left party France Unbowed (LFI) during a session of the National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament.
Bilongo called on the French government to cooperate with EU countries – especially Italy and its new far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – to help several hundred African migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
De Fournas interrupted, shouting “go back to Africa”.
Chaos immediately broke out in the chamber, which led Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the National Assembly, to temporarily suspend the session.
Bilongo and his party described the shout as a racist personal attack, although de Fournas’ party argued that the interjection was actually aimed at the migrants in question.
“Today, some people can again put my skin color in the center of a debate. I was born in France and I am a French legislator and I did not think that today I will be insulted [like this] at the National Assembly,” Bilongo told reporters after the incident.
Mathilde Panot, leader of the far-left France Unbowed group in the National Assembly, called on de Fournas to face the harshest punishment for a French lawmaker – expulsion. “Racists like him have no place in our parliament,” tweeted Panot.
De Fournas said he was referring to migrants, tweeting that France Unbowed had “turned” his words into “unfortunate manipulation”.
“My reply concerned the boat and the migrants, obviously not my partner,” he tweeted.
According to the French phonetic rules, there is little audible difference between the sentences, “He must return to Africa” and “They had to return to Africa” as de Fournas expressed it.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right RN party group in the French lower house, expressed support for de Fournas in a tweet.
“Grégoire de Fournas obviously spoke about the migrants transported in boats by the NGO that our partner said in his request to the government. The controversy created by our political opponents is crude and will not deceive the French,” he written
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 a punishment for de Fournas. Expulsion, the harshest punishment meted out to a lawmaker by parliament, has been meted out only once during France’s Fifth Republic, to communist lawmaker Maxime Gremetz for disrupting a parliamentary session in 2011, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.