'Utterly abhorrent': House of Lords peer accused of racism after calling Kamala Harris 'the Indian'

Ross McGuinness
·4 min read
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - NOVEMBER 07:  Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks on stage at the Chase Center before President-elect Joe Biden's address to the nation November 07, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. After four days of counting the high volume of mail-in ballots in key battleground states due to the coronavirus pandemic, the race was called for Biden after a contentious election battle against incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Kamala Harris has made history by becoming the first woman to be elected vice-president of the US. (Getty Images)

A member of the House of Lords has been accused of racism for referring to US vice-president elect Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.

Life peer Lord John Kilclooney, 82, a former Ulster Unionist MP from Northern Ireland, was criticised after he used the term in a tweet about Harris on Monday.

He tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes president. Who then becomes vice-president?”

Lord Kilclooney is photographed in the Houses of Parliament in London.   (Photo by Ian Nicholson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Lord Kilclooney was criticised for his tweet about vice-president elect Kamala Harris. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Harris was born in Oakland, California. Her late mother was from India, while her father was born in Jamaica.

She made history on Saturday when she became the first woman – and first woman of colour – to be elected US vice-president.

Labour MP Wes Streeting said that “action must be taken” over the life peer’s “unacceptable racism”.

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said his tweet was “utterly abhorrent”. She added: “Racism through and through.”

Former Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Wollaston described Lord Kilclooney’s tweet as “deeply offensive” and said she had made a complaint to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards.

Norman Fowler, speaker of the House of Lords, said Lord Kilclooney should “retract and apologise” for the “offensive” tweet.

From left, Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Harris, President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden on stage together, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
US vice-president elect Kamala Harris and president-elect Joe Biden celebrate their election victory. (AP Photo)

Lord Kilclooney denied accusations his tweet was racist.

He told Yahoo News UK: “I’ve had a record number of followers on Twitter today. A minority are critical.

“It’s certainly not meant to be racist. It’s not in the least racist because I’m very pro-Indian.”

Asked if he felt the need to apologise for his tweet, he said: “Not at all.”

Lord Kilclooney later deleted his tweet, posting another one saying: “This tweet is cancelled”.

Watch: Who is Kamala Harris?

Two years ago, Lord Kilclooney was forced to apologise and delete a tweet in which he called Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a “typical Indian”.

He claimed he was not being racist but that people had tried to “misrepresent” his tweet.

Varadkar was born in Dublin, while his father was born in India.

Lord Kilclooney said at the time: “I regret the misunderstanding of my brief tweet.

“Had it been an Englishman I would equally have stated ‘typical English’ as they know little about politics in this island. Not racist as is confirmed.”

Read more: Kamala Harris: ‘I won’t be the last woman in the White House’

Varadkar said he initially thought the Twitter account of Lord Kilclooney was a parody.

“It actually is for real, but that’s all I’ll say about that,” he said.

Watch: Kamala Harris pays tribute to women