By Justin Cohen

Jeremy Zeid

Jeremy Zeid

A leading UKIP member this week refused to apologise after coming under fire for describing “the almost absence of white faces” in Ilford as “worrying” and suggesting the area had faced “ethnic cleansing”.

The party’s Harrow chairman Jeremy Zeid (pictured) took to Twitter to make the remarks last week after attending the Ilford offices of a newly-elected UKIP MEP. Zeid, who failed to be elected as a councillor last month, wrote: “Having just been to Gerard Batten’s office in Ilford, the almost absence of white faces in Ilford is worrying.”

He added: ”@MikeGapes [Labour MP for Ilford South] is so busy being ‘right on’ he is either blind to or deliberately complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Ilford.”

Although he described his words as “perhaps intemperate” and even “inappropriate”, he told the Jewish News: “Why the bloody hell should I apologise?

“There’s something called freedom of speech in this country. It was purely an observation. If you can’t make an observation without getting a storm from the left then we’re no longer in a free country. I won’t be apologising under any circumstances because there’s nothing to apologise for.

“Everybody drops a clanger every now and then. I’m being singled out for something exceptionally minor.”

The latest census figures show Redbridge has a “white British” population of 34.5 percent. Zeid said: “If I’d gone to Harpenden or Hatfield and said it’s a bit white here, it looks like it’s been ethnically cleansed, nobody would have said a word because of the direction it was said.

“Racism is racism in both directions. I think you’ll find one thing I’m not is racist. I’m fed up with the word being used as a bludgeon to close down discussion.”

Gapes said: “I am proud to represent our diverse vibrant borough. Redbridge has always been a place where people of many backgrounds, races and religions are living together and working together in harmony.

“For some 100 years Ilford has welcomed immigrants including Jews fleeing from pogroms and the Nazis, East African Asians or more recent migrants from elsewhere. I’m delighted Redbridge decisively rejected racist and anti-immigrant parties in the recent elections.

“UKIP won no council seats and came a poor third in the European vote. I’m appalled by these poisonous remarks.”

Neighbouring MP for Ilford North Lee Scott said: “He should say sorry straight away. He just does not understand the area and his comments are offensive to our community who have made Ilford and the wider local area home for a long time. His party should investigate and act.”

While claiming he doesn’t care “about colour, creed or religion”, Zeid – who has since removed his Twitter account – again claimed the swift demographic change “is worrying in some ways”.

He said: “After a very short period of time you see a huge demographic change and you’re not seeing a mix of people. Rather than getting a mixed community, you’re getting a polarisation of the community.”

Accusing Gapes of alerting the media to his comments, he said: “What he wants to do is be a nice bully to show how inclusive he is and how he likes brown people and things like that. He doesn’t like anybody any better than anyone else, it just gets him votes. And that’s not a racist comment either.

“At the moment if you say one comment in one direction you’re a screaming, swivel-eyed lunatic and racist and if you say it the other way it’s alright. That’s what I call patronising nonsense.”

Zeid said the party had urged him to be “careful” in the wake of coverage of his remarks.”They were actually very nice to me.”

A UKIP spokesperson said: “UKIP is a non-racist, non-sectarian party and any action taken by a representative that undermines these values will be investigated.”