Listen: Awkward Brexit interview puts North Devon Lib Dem candidate under fire
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North Devon’s Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate has been urged to apologise immediately after a Brexit interview plunged her into a race row.
Dr Kirsten Johnson has hit the headlines after her comments on BBC Radio 4's Sunday lunchtime The World This Weekend.
When asked about North Devon being an area that voted to leave the EU, she said: "Demographically it's 98 per cent white. We don't have a lot of ethnic minorities living in North Devon. People aren't exposed to people from other countries."
North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones has called on her to make 'an immediate and unreserved apology to local people following her disgraceful comments', saying they were 'highly offensive'.
On the show, interviewer Ross Hawkins asked what the number of ethnic minority votes had to do with it and Dr Johnson said: "I didn't mean to mean that it has anything to do with it at all - just saying that when I speak to people I am hearing comments to me....when it....it refers to race. You've got....you've got me in a corner here."
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Dr Johnson then referred to the rise of hate crimes and was asked if she linked leave voters to hate crime.
She responded: "No I do not link all leave voters to hate crime, not at all, I need to make that absolutely clear."
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The awkward radio segment continued and eventually concluded with Mr Hawkins saying: "There she trailed off, and I'm not sure I ever did really understand her point."
In a statement, Mr Heaton-Jones called the remarks 'appalling and unacceptable'.
He said: "When pressed to defend her remarks, she could only say, 'you've got me in a corner here', and later trailed off into silence.
"The Lib Dem candidate should break that silence only to apologise for the patronising and inflammatory comments in this extraordinary outburst.
"Many people will be extremely offended by the suggestion that they support Brexit because they're white and don't get out much, or that there's a link between some leave voters and hate crime."
Dawn Westcott, The Brexit Party's prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for North Devon, said after the show: "This is not my experience of the people of North Devon and interviewed on the same programme, I said: 'This is not the London bubble. This is the countryside and there's a sense of shock that the Liberal Democrats are no longer representing the views of North Devon'.
"I was also asked to explain why I'd said that MPs trying to obstruct the democratic will of the people were 'traitors to democracy'. I said: 'Well if you take the concept of somebody going abroad, colluding with a foreign power to obstruct the democratic will of the country, of the people, and overturn a people's referendum, then I'm not sure what else you would call it other than treacherous behaviour'."
North Devon Green Party PPC Robert Mack said: "I can't believe the disdain for North Devon residents from the Lib Dem PPC, Kirsten Johnson.
"This statement clearly pits their party against the electorate here. We need to trust people to make decisions and this is why I back a people's vote. We need to listen to people from all sides of the debate, without prejudice."
Mark Cann, chairman of North Devon Labour Party, added: "These distasteful comments from Kirsten Johnson just go to show how little she understands the people of North Devon. Despite our differences on Brexit, no one should be branding those with a different view as racist or lacking an understanding of the issues. We should respect all views on Brexit no matter how we might differ in our opinions. That is why Labour is committed to a Peoples Vote and will respect its outcome."
The Gazette has contacted Dr Johnson to ask for a response, but she tweeted on Monday: 'I apologise for the offense my comments have caused. I misspoke and these comments do not reflect my views or that of my party'.
* Listen to the full BBC Radio 4 The World This Weekend interview here.