BNP members vote to change constitution to allow black and Asian people to join in order to comply with equality laws
The British National Party today voted to scrap its whites-only membership policy in a move dismissed by anti-racist campaigners as "cosmetic".
At an extraordinary general meeting held in Essex, members of the far-right party voted in favour of changes to its constitution that would theoretically allow black and Asian people to join. BNP spokesman Simon Darby said that of the "300-400 people" who attended the meeting, just five voted against the motion.
The new constitution, which is not yet publicly available, will be sent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for final approval. The BNP will give the ECHR seven days to respond, said Darby.
The meeting was hastily arranged after the Central London county court last month told the BNP to amend its constitution to comply with race relations laws or face legal action by the EHRC. After the hearing on 28 January , the BNP rushed out letters to its 14,000 members in order to allow for the 14 days needed to alert them to the proposed changes.
But there remained queries over whether the amended version would go far enough to appease lawyers from the EHRC.
Anti-racism campaigners have said the constitutional change would make no difference to the BNP's racist ideology. Weyman Bennett, national secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said: "I think that regardless of the vote, the changes are cosmetic and have only happened because the courts forced them to stop racist practices."
Asked whether the BNP is now not racist, Darby said: "Let's put it like this: If, as a result of this, a court rules that we are now a bonafide party, that's a great stamp of approval. If anyone says we are racist, we can say 'no we're not, it's been proved in court'."
As for whether the BNP would genuinely welcome members of "all colours and creeds", Darby said: "I'm not prepared to even say that until we have the court ruling. I'm not going to stray into the realms of that sort of terminology."
Earlier in the day BNP leader Nick Griffin said ethnic minority members will be accepted if they agree with the party's aims.
He told the BBC: "They'll be accepted, they'll be welcomed, providing they're there to do the things that we want to do, and providing they accept and agree with our principles, which is that multiculturalism, we believe, has been a failure. It was imposed on the British people without any consent, by the political elite. It's still going on, it's madness and it's time to shut the doors."
First in the queue to join the ostensibly more inclusive BNP is likely to be Rajinder Singh, a 78-year-old retired primary school teacher, who last week told the Guardian that the BNP was genuinely changing.
"They are trying to soften up. Shouldn't the nation welcome that?" he said. "It's a positive move if they get people like me, and if I'm sitting in a BNP meeting they won't say 'Throw all of them out' because they'll realise one of 'them' is among 'us'."