Black feminist activist says Ukip staffer made offensive comments

Nimco Ali said she had ‘walked away in shock’ after Gawain Towler’s remarks. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

Gawain Towler denies telling anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali: ‘I am racist but you’re beautiful so I would do you’

A senior Ukip staff member repeatedly told a black women’s rights campaigner that, while he was racist, he would still like to have sex with her, it has been alleged.

Nimco Ali, the co-founder of the group Daughters of Eve, which campaigns against female genital mutilation (FGM), told the Guardian she was disgusted by the behaviour of Gawain Towler, the party’s head of press, who made the comments to her at an event on Tuesday night.

The alleged incident happened at an event to mark the 60th anniversary of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in the City of London. Ali said Towler told her privately, then again in front of other guests: “I am racist but you’re beautiful, so I would do you.” Afterwards, she said, he followed her outside and tried to lead her away, saying he wanted to buy her a drink.

She described the incident on Twitter, describing Towler as a “senior Ukip’er”:

On Wednesday, he apologised, saying: “I am an admirer of Nimco Ali’s work, but clearly misjudged our meeting at a very convivial BBC event.

“I did say ‘I’m a racist’ but, as always, it was an ironic response to people’s kneejerk reaction on learning that I work for Ukip. I certainly did not intend to cause any upset or distress to Ms Ali and apologise unreservedly for having done so.”

He added: “Whilst I of course apologise for anything I might have done to make Ms Ali feel uncomfortable, during what I believed to a lighthearted conversation, I vehemently deny ever having used the language suggested by Ms Ali, or propositioning her in any way.”

Towler is a long-serving member of Ukip staff who was close to the former leader, Nigel Farage. In 2013, he described himself as “today’s comedy racist” after being criticised for referring to a British Asian journalist as being “of some form of ethnic extraction” in a message to a colleague.

The pair had first met last week. “We had a conversation and then [Towler] followed me on Twitter and he said ‘I’m so jealous that you’re going to Somaliland, I’d love to go one day,’ and I said ‘Well, I’m always for overturning racists so, if you want to come, that’s fine,’” said Ali.

She said she decided to confront him about his views on race. “I looked at the guy and said ‘Would you classify yourself as a racist?’ and he first of all said ‘Nah I’m not.’ But I replied ‘Everyone’s racist, but where would you put yourself on the scale?’

“And then he said ‘Fine, I am racist but you’re beautiful, so I would do you.’ I couldn’t believe what he’d said.” Later, Towler said the same in front of other guests, according to Ali, asking them: “Yeah, look at her. You would, wouldn’t you?”

“I kept trying to get away from him but he followed me to the smoking area,” she said. “The party was over and I said I was leaving but he tried to take my arm and said ‘No, look, listen lady, I am buying you a drink whether it’s now or when we go to Somaliland.’” She said she refused and “he just thought it was funny”.

Ali is a prominent feminist and anti-FGM campaigner who stood as a candidate for the Women’s Equality party in this year’s general election.

The new leader of Ukip, Henry Bolton, has spoken out against FGM in the past. Launching his party leadership campaign in August, he said: “It is abhorrent and not only that – it’s illegal. It says something about how certain parts of our society view women which is contrary to our intrinsic British values.”


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