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Racism must be ‘confronted’, says Sunak amid royal reception remarks row

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has spoken before about racism in his own life (Jacob King/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has spoken before about racism in his own life (Jacob King/PA)

Rishi Sunak has said that racism must be “confronted”, as Buckingham Palaces faces questions after a black domestic abuse campaigner was asked where she “really came from” at a royal reception.

Ngozi Fulani, founder of the charity Sistah Space, expressed shock at her treatment by the late Queen’s lady in waiting, Lady Susan Hussey, but said she had yet to be contacted by Buckingham Palace to discuss the incident.

The Prime Minister on Thursday declined to comment directly on the row but said that it was right to “confront” racism.

Speaking to broadcasters in Downing Street, he said: “As I’ve talked about in the past, I have experienced racism in my life.

“But what I am pleased to say is some of the things that I experienced when I was a kid and a young person I don’t think would happen today because our country has made incredible progress in tackling racism.

“But the job is never done. And that’s why whenever we see it we must confront it.

“It’s right that we continually learn the lessons and move to a better future.”

Mr Sunak, who became leader of the Conservative Party in October following Liz Truss’s resignation, is the UK’s first Hindu Prime Minister and the first of Asian heritage.

He told broadcasters it would not be “right” for him to comment on the matter, but said: “As we’ve all seen, they’ve acknowledged what’s happened and made an apology for it.”

Lady Susan, the Prince of Wales’s 83-year-old godmother, resigned from the household and apologised after she repeatedly challenged Ms Fulani when she said she was British at the Queen Consort’s reception highlighting violence against women and girls.

Ms Fulani told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Although I didn’t experience physical violence, what I feel I experienced was a form of abuse.”

Pressed on whether the Palace had contacted her via her organisation, Ms Fulani said: “No. I don’t know where this has come from, but I’m telling you categorically – we have not heard from the Palace.”

Describing how Lady Susan also touched her hair during the incident, she said: “I was stood next to two other women – black women – and she (Lady Susan) just made a beeline for me, and she took my locks and moved it out of the way so that she could see my name badge.

Member of Palace household comments
The Queen and her then lady in waiting, Lady Susan Hussey, who has resigned from the household (Chris Radburn/PA)

“That’s a no-no. I wouldn’t put my hands in someone’s hair, and culturally it’s not appropriate.”

Ms Fulani said the comments were down to racism, not Lady Susan’s age.

“I’ve heard so many suggestions it’s about her age and stuff like that. And I think that’s a kind of a disrespect about ageism,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Are we saying that because of your age you can’t be racist or you can’t be inappropriate?

“If you invite people to an event, as I said, against domestic abuse, and there are people there from different demographics, I don’t see the relevance of whether I’m British or not British. You’re trying to make me unwelcome in my own space.”

Member of Palace household comments
Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, ahead of travelling to the Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday (Sistah Space/PA)

Ms Fulani said she wanted the focus to remain on domestic abuse survivors rather than the race row.

Asked how she felt about Lady Susan’s resignation, she said: “I want the focus to remain where it should be, which is on the women and girls who are affected by domestic abuse.

“Having said that, she’s influenced by Buckingham Palace, and it’s their decision and her decision to make, one that I had no part in.”

William, who is on a trip to Boston in the US with the Princess of Wales, backed the decision of his godmother to resign as a Lady of the Household.

A Kensington Palace spokesman issued a strong statement, saying: “Racism has no place in our society.

“The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

Royal visit to Boston – Day 1
The Prince and Princess of Wales at a basketball game in Boston (Paul Edwards/The Sun/PA)

The Palace moved swiftly to respond to Ms Fulani’s tweets on Wednesday morning, saying it took the incident at Tuesday’s reception “extremely seriously” and had investigated immediately.

It added, not naming Lady Susan, that the individual concerned had resigned and apologised and that the comments were “unacceptable and deeply regrettable”.

The King, who acceded to the throne less than three months ago, and Camilla have been made aware of the situation, the Palace said.

But former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt told the PA news agency: “Charles and William’s problem is that the focus is already shifting from the actions of one woman to broader questions about whether Buckingham Palace is institutionally racist.”