‘Bat soup’ comments made by Tory council leader criticised

The leader of Adur District Council has been accused of ‘casual racism’ after linking Covid-19 to ‘somebody eating under-cooked bat soup in China’.

Neil Parkin, Adur District Council's leader
Neil Parkin, Adur District Council's leader

Neil Parkin, who has firmly denied the accusation, made the comment during the annual meeting of the council, which was live-streamed on Thursday (May 21).

While no one mentioned his choice of words at the time, they were thrown back at him as members agreed to a motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

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Fully supporting the motion, Sami Zeglam (Lab, St Mary’s) had some strong words for the committee.

He said: “I know a few years ago in one of my first meetings we supported a motion about Islamophbia as well.

“I just want to note that it’s hypocritical of us to support this motion when, at the same time, we’ve still got people like Cllr Neil Parkin who, earlier on today in this meeting, suggested about coronavirus and the Chinese eating bat soup and stuff.

“Obviously we don’t have scientific evidence to prove any of that yet – and we’re still making casual racism in the council meeting.

“Yet at the same time we’re all going to vote in favour of this motion against anti-Semitism. I just think it’s a bit hypocritical.”

He was supported by Catherine Arnold (Lab, St Mary’s), who told the meeting that similar words to those from Mr Parkin had recently been scrubbed from a wall in Shoreham-by-Sea.

This month, the Home Office reported a 21 per cent rise in hate crime against south and east Asian communities, and there have been reports of Chinese people being spat on, verbally abused and assaulted.

Mr Parkin gave no response to the allegation of ‘casual racism’ during the meeting.

Supporting the anti-Semitism motion, he said: “I thought this was a totally non-political thing, a very worthwhile thing, but certain Labour members seem to want to politicise it and have a dig at me.”

Cllr Zeglam was cut off by the chairman – who was trying to steer the discussion back to the motion at hand – when he said: “Racism is racism…you can’t pick and choose, it’s out of order.”

When asked about the accusation after the meeting, Mr Parkin said: “I do not think I was telling the public anything they did not already know. Nor do I think I was being racist. I also did not say what I am accused of saying.”

Mr Parkin said he had spoken to chairman Andy McGregor after the meeting, who in turn wrote to the council’s monitoring officer about the matter.

He added: “Either I have been inadvertently racist in a public meeting- a very serious matter. Or those two Labour Councillors have wrongly accused me of being racist – again a very serious matter.

“It may have to go to the council’s standards committee.”

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