A Labour Member of the European Parliament, Richard Howitt MEP has accused Ukip of wanting to “abort disabled children” and “put people with learning difficulties in camps”; allegations which Ukip branded “deeply upsetting” and “highly offensive”. Ukip’s disability spokesman Star Etheridge, who is herself a Ukip councillor living with disability, has called on Howitt to step down following his remarks.
During the recent Ukip conference in Doncaster Howitt tweeted “UKIP says abort disabled children, put people w/ learning diffs in camps & bans disabled candidates” and linked to a blog post on the website of left wing activist group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). The tweet was retweeted 85 times and remains on Howitt’s twitter account.
The blog post used remarks from Ukip members who have since been evicted from the party as evidence for the allegations, although Howitt made no attempt to distinguish between official party policy and offensive comments from within party ranks within his tweet. Twitter user Beth Dawson posted “please provide evidence for this statement?” to which someone using the DPAC account replied “see refs on piece”. Howitt himself made no further comment on the matter on twitter.
Ukip members and MEPs quickly lined up to denounce the allegation. Nathan Gill, Ukip MEP for Wales wrote “So this is 21st Century Labour, running scared and peddling lies. #disgustedwithlabour”, whilst East Midlands MEP Margot Parker added “This kind of rubbish simply shows the desperation of #labourfail #labourlies”. Gary Conway, a Ukip member wrote “Utterly outrageous. Ashamed Howitt ‘represents’ my region. A lying disgrace to public office.”
Star Etheridge, the Ukip spokesman for disabilities issued a statement last night on the Ukip website calling for Howitt to resign. It read “As a disabled person myself who encourages all other disabled people to enter politics, I find Mr Howitt’s repulsive comments deeply insulting and it is clear that he is not fit for office. He should hang his head in shame, issue an apology and stand down as an MEP.”
Speaking to Breitbart London, she said “the comments on putting people in camps bring to mind something from world war two, or some sort of zoo. There’s no way I would ever condone anything like that.
“If people want to live in an Assisted Living environment [housing in which disabled people are semi-independent], what’s wrong with that? Some older people have lost both their parents and have no one at home to care for them. If Assisted Living is what’s best for them, who am I to say otherwise? It should be none of the government’s business.
“On abortions, I would never tell anybody to abort a child and nor would it ever be Ukip policy. That’s a completely private and personal decision, not one for the government”.
Etheridge pointed out that the idea that Ukip prevents disabled people from standing is completely unfounded, and points to herself as a Ukip councillor with disabilities, before listing a number of activists and elected members living with disabilities. “As long as they’re decent, upstanding human beings, we don’t care whether they come with wheels.
Commenting on her call for Mr Howitt to stand down she concluded “If somebody is elected they have a duty to tell the truth.”
Alun Elder-Brown, aka the ‘blind blogger’, a well-known Ukip activist agreed with Mrs Etheridge’s stance. Speaking to Breitbart London he said “I have always been well received within the party. I’m a keen activist and campaigner, and without exception everyone has always been most supportive.
“I hold various positions within the local association and they are keen for me to be a borough candidate next year. I considered putting myself forward as a PPC [parliamentary candidate] but decided against it, not because of my disability but because I want to stay active as a campaigner. At no stage have I ever felt discriminated against. Indeed, everyone goes out of their way to support me and that’s from local party activists, to those I meet on my travels to conferences and campaigns.”
When questioned on whether he backed Ukip’s handling of disability policy, he was generally positive. “My personal opinion is that I wish we had an MEP representing disability. That said, I do like the fact that we in UKIP are represented on disabilities by those with disabilities.”
A number of petitions have been set up calling for Mr Howitt’s resignation, but so far he has remained defiant, this afternoon retweeting a tweet by anti-Ukip group ‘SLATUKIP’ which renewed the allegations.