DUP MP Sammy Wilson has firmly rejected claims that he agreed with a member of the public who urged he take an “ethnics out” approach to EU politics during a live BBC recording.
A BBC Spotlight reporter said he was walking around Carrickfergus filming with Mr Wilson during his canvassing for an EU exit in the EU referendum.
In a conversation with a member of the public, Mr Wilson said: “They are doing a programme on the BBC about should we stay in the European Union or get out of it, so I am going around talking to people and then they are going to do an interview with me.”
The man replied: “I’d say get out of it. Between you and me, get the ethnics out too.”
Mr Wilson then said: “You are absolutely right, you know.”
The MP insisted that the controversial remark had not registered with him at the time and accused the BBC of following a pro-EU agenda in the run up to the referendum by taking his remarks out of context – a charge the BBC firmly rejected.
“I am amazed at the controversy this interview has generated,” Mr Wilson told the News Letter.
“This was a long day out filming in Carrickfergus talking to members of the public on the EU referendum.
“During the interview after the walkabout there were no questions about the episode. The first I was aware of any controversy was when they wrote to me some time later asking me to comment on these few seconds.
“Did I even pick up on what he [the member of the public] said at the time? Perhaps not.
“Very often in interviews you – politicians and broadcasters too – only hear the bit you want to hear, and that is the bit you comment on.”
As far as Mr Wilson is concerned, he was only agreeing with the positive reaction he got to his question about exiting the EU.
The MP’ was “quite clear” he does not agree with the ‘ethnics out’ remark.
“Given that I made my views on immigration very clear to the interviewer at length after the walkabout, I am surprised at these few seconds being taken out of context.
“The BBC decided to make the controversy. It has twisted this controversy to suit their own obvious pro-EU agenda, trying to portray anyone who supports an EU exit as being racist or as putting the UK economy or security at risk.
“The BBC is making millions in funding from the EU.”
When he worked as a teacher at ‘Castlereagh Tech’, he said, a Chinese student who “could not settle down in student accommodation” came to stay as a lodger in his house for four years.
“On Sundays they would have all their Chinese friends round – doctors and students – for Chinese food. I also had an Iranian student who lodged with me for two years.”
His relations with the Chinese community were so good, he said, that he was the only person invited to sit on the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which he did for eight years.
“The chairman of the chamber, Danny Wong, took me to China as an ambassador for Northern Ireland.
“I would also know quite a few members of the Pakistani community. At Christmas they took me to see a showing of ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’. When they heard the news today one of them texted me to say: ‘Funny – what a bunch of twisters!’
“Anyone who knows me personally knows I am not racist.
“And even if I was, they would know I am not stupid enough to do something like that when I knew I was doing a live recording and wearing a mike with a reporter hovering nearby.”
His view on immigration is that leaving the EU would “give us control of our own borders”.
The UK would make the final decision on the numbers of people it accepts, their skills and the ability to absorb them.
Controlled immigration is vital to the economy, he said, but the UK must also retain the right to eject lawbreakers.
A BBC spokeswoman insisted it had not taken Mr Wilson’s remarks out of context.
“The BBC has reported the exchange fairly and in context,” she said.
“Spotlight sent an accurate transcription of the exchange to Mr Wilson and gave him ample opportunity to explain what he meant in the exchange with a member of the public.”
The BBC was to “reflect any further response” from Mr Wilson in the programme that was due to be broadcast on Tuesday night.
Mr Wilson’s comments on immigration are “reflected accurately in the programme” the spokeswoman said. However, this particular exchange with a member of the public “appeared different from other conversations Mr Wilson had had about immigration. We therefore sought a specific explanation”.