UKIP’s leader in the Welsh Assembly Gareth Bennett has caused a stir at the Senedd with questions to the First Minister regarding the wearing of the burka in Wales and Wales forming a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’* for asylum seekers and refugees.

*{The proposals are intended to develop and improve access to help, advice and services for the refugees and asylum seekers across Wales. ‘Nation of
Sanctuary’ aims to tackle inequalities and poverty experienced by these communities, promoting equality of opportunity and supporting them to more easily and readily access resources and mainstream services.}

Mr Bennett began his question by asking the First Minister “I note that the Welsh Government has been developing its intention to turn wales into a nation of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers. Is this a major priority for your government?”

The First Minister responded: “I have no idea why he has such a problem with refugees. We have a proud record of giving sanctuary to people who have been persecuted around the world. Children particularly who have seen things that he has never seen. Adults who have seen people killed in front of them people who have seen war. People who have been the subject of persecution sometimes of genocide and there he is saying that somehow a nation of sanctuary is not something we should pursue.”

Mr Bennett took issue with the answer and pointed out that he had asked a question and had not made an assertion. He thanked the First Minister for his reflections.

Continuing with his question Mr Bennett said: “It does sound from your answer First Minister that this is going to be a major priority for your government so that’s very interesting. As you may recall I was the only member of the Assembly’s communities committee who opposed the nation of sanctuary idea. I thought that we should be looking after our own people first. Obviously a strange idea to many people in this chamber.

“There are massive problems of housing destitution and access to mental health provision in Wales already. Before you agree to encourage another very needy group of people to come here in greater and greater numbers which is what you are doing with your nation of sanctuary status.

“When I raised this issue a year ago the Welsh Government didn’t like what I had to say. I did get a lot of support from the general public. I had a whole load of supportive emails on this point. So your government may not be in sync with the people of Wales on this point.”

60% of public against wearing of the burka: Claim made by Gareth Bennet of UKIP

Mr Bennett then turned to his question on the wearing of the burka in Wales. He said: “Another issue again where you may be dangerously out of touch which is on the issue of the burka. I commented on the burka issue recently because I was asked to by members of the media and you didn’t like what I had to say. Now do you think that this whole issue of the burka is taboo and nobody has the right to comment on it.”

The First Minister responded: “Is it right that a man should tell a woman what to wear? He thinks so. It is typical of his position.

“What on Earth does what people wear have to do with politics? We are a free country. It is a very unBritish thing to say that people do not have the right to wear a particular item of clothing. That belongs in a previous time in a previous country if I can put it that way.”

The First Minister then appeared to give the UKIP leader a history of the origins of the people of Wales. He said: “Let me remind him that each and every one of us in this chamber is the descendant of an immigrant, each and every one of us. Its all a question of when our families originally came. This country is a country of immigrants. There were no people here. People arrived here from elsewhere. The Welsh language has its roots in Sanskrit. That’s how far the Welsh language has travelled over many many millennia. I do not wee why offering sanctuary to a small number of people should be taboo for him. He talks about services like mental health services. Many of them are delivered by immigrants. We would not have a national health service if we didn’t recruit doctors from abroad. And I have to say, given the tone of what we have heard in this chamber this afternoon the question must be asked as to what the difference is between UKIP and the BNP?”

Sanskrit is the classical language of Indian and the liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is also one of the 22 official languages of India.

Mr Bennett got to his feet to say: “The problem you have First Minister is that you are completely out of touch with your own people. Sky news conducted a recent poll which indicated that 60% of the British people support a ban on the burka. So let’s just summarise your position here. You have said publicly that my comments on this are racist yet 60% of the public appear to agree with me. By implication you appear to believe that 60% of the British people are racists. Going forward how does your Labour government expect to be re-elected if it goes around telling 60% of its own voters that they are racists?

Referring to the numbers of AM’s in the chamber the First Minister pointed at the UKIP area and the Labour are and said: “Four members and dropping 29. There’s the answer to you in terms of popularity and thats the answer to you to in terms of where we sit in terms of public support. You start with the muslims then you move on to jewish people. The orthodox jews dress in a strange way we can’t have that then you move on to people who wear skull caps why should they dress in a different way. Let me move on to other sections of the population people who perhaps who are Christians who are members of particular churches who dress in a particular way. This stops now. Nobody has the right to tell anybody else in Britain in Wales a free country how they dress. If that’s the way UKIP is going then it’s going down some very very dark alleyways indeed. It’s going down the alleyway of racism and that’s why all of us in this chamber apart from the famous four over there will certainly object to and fight.”

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During Mr Bennett’s questions to the First Minister a female member of his own party made a visual gesture behind Mr Bennett, which if one was inclined could interpret as ‘oh no’. Cries of shame and disgusting came from within the chamber.

Leanne Wood was next to question the First Minister but she began by making a statement in response to Mr Bennett’s comments. She said: “I would just like to say that I am proud to lead a party that stands up for every single citizen in Wales regardless of where they were born and we stand against everything that was just said by the leader of the far right.

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