The lower house of the French parliament was suspended on Thursday after a far-right MP shouted “return to Africa” at a black politician.
Carlos Martens Bilongo had challenged the centrist government over a maritime rescue boat carrying hundreds of passengers in the Mediterranean which was not given an assigned port.
The outburst came from Grégoire de Fournas, a 37-year-old member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, who later said his remarks were not aimed at Mr Martens Bilongo, but at migrants trying to reach Europe by Sea route.
Other deputies shouted angrily at him and at each other after he spoke.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said: “There is no place for racism in our democracy.
“The Bureau of the National Assembly will meet and will have to decide on the necessary sanction.”
Stéphane Sejourne, who leads President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, has called for Mr de Fournas to resign, while the left-wing Nupes alliance has said he should be expelled.
“The National Rally showed its true colors today,” Nupes said in a statement.
“This racist insult is characteristic of the far right: to stigmatize according to the color of one’s skin, to divide the French people.”
But Ms Le Pen insisted her colleague had said nothing wrong, adding that he had “obviously been talking about the migrants being transported in the boats.
“The controversy created by our political adversaries… will not deceive the French.”
Mr. Martens Bilongo, a 31-year-old man who was a teacher and activist before entering politics, reacted to the incident by saying: “I asked the government a question, as is done every week in the Assembly.
“Except that I couldn’t get to the end of my question, because a member of the National Rally interrupted me by shouting ‘Go back to Africa!’
“I did not expect to hear these words one day in the National Assembly. But racism always catches up with us, even in the most prestigious places in the republic.”
The French-born politician said that even if the words were aimed at migrants rather than him, they would still have been ‘unjustifiable’, adding: ‘Has racism become so commonplace that this phrase has become acceptable?’
“This episode reminds us of what the far right is in France: the contempt for institutions and the hatred of millions of our French compatriots.
“This Thursday, I had invited children from my constituency to the Assembly to attend my question to the government, with a certain pride.
“I am thinking of them. It is for them that I will continue to exercise my mandate, without ever having to justify myself on the color of my skin.
“And so that they can finally live free from the racism which, by dint of complacency, is progressing in this country.”