A right-wing French lawmaker has caused an uproar by shouting “go back to Africa” during comments by a black lawmaker at a parliamentary session broadcast to the public on Thursday.
Grégoire de Fournas, MP for the Rallye National (RN) party, interrupted Carlos Martens Bilongo, an MP for the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, during a session of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.
Bilongo called on the French government to work with EU countries – particularly Italy and its newly elected far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – to help several hundred African migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
De Fournas interrupted him and shouted, “Go back to Africa.”
Chaos immediately broke out in the chamber, prompting Yaël Braun-Pivet, President of the National Assembly, to temporarily suspend the session.
Bilongo and his party have described the shout as a racist personal attack, although de Fournas’ party has argued that the heckling was actually intended for the migrants under discussion.
“Today, again, some people have put my skin color at the center of a debate. I was born in France and I’m a French legislator and I didn’t think I’d be offended today [like this] in the National Assembly,” Bilongo told reporters after the incident.
Mathilde Panot, leader of the far-left France Unbowed group in the National Assembly, has demanded that de Fournas face the harshest punishment for a French lawmaker – expulsion. “Racists like him have no place in our parliament,” Panot tweeted.
De Fournas said he was referring to migrants and tweeted that France Unbowed had “hijacked” his words in a “disgraceful manipulation”.
“My reply was about the boat and the migrants, obviously not my colleague,” he tweeted.
Under French phonetic rules, there is little audible difference between the phrases “He should return to Africa” and “You should return to Africa”, as de Fournas put it.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right RN party group in the French House of Commons, tweeted in favor of de Fournas.
“Grégoire de Fournas was obviously talking about the migrants being transported in boats by the NGOs that our colleague mentioned in his question to the government. The polemic created by our political opponents is crude and will not fool the French,” she wrote.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told journalists after the meeting that “racism has no place in our democracy”.
Parliament will meet on Friday to decide on a penalty for de Fournas. Expulsion, the harshest penalty inflicted on a lawmaker from Parliament, was imposed only once during the Fifth French Republic on a communist lawmaker Maxime Gremetz for disrupting a parliamentary session in 2011, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.