Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s claim that Ukip is attracting racist activists came as the party took the lead in the European elections battle.
Ukip council candidate William Henwood, who was responding to a speech by Henry in which he complained that ethnic minorities were under-represented on British television, tweeted: “He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites.”
Tory Cabinet minister Mr Hunt pointed out that the remarks joined a number of other questionable interventions, including Ukip member Andre Lampitt arguing on Twitter that Islam is “evil” and that Labour leader Ed Miliband is not British.
The party has also come under fire for a campaign warning of the dangers of immigration, featuring Irish actor David O’Rourke who immigrated to the UK ten years ago.
However, a YouGov poll indicates Mr Farage is not sustaining significant damage from the furore, or from persistent questions about his MEP expenses.
The poll gave Ukip an outright advantage for the first time, with 31 per cent of support compared to 28 per cent for Labour, and with the Tories languishing in third on 19 per cent. The results are in line with a ComRes poll last month, which put Ukip on 30 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent, and David Cameron’s party on 21 per cent. Defending his words, Mr Henwood told the BBC: “I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people, why are they here? If he [Henry] wants a lot of blacks around, go and live in a black country.”
Mr Hunt told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I do think those comments about Lenny Henry were absolutely disgusting and I do think it’s for Nigel Farage to make absolutely clear that it’s not Ukip’s official view, but also to explain why so many people with those kinds of view seem to be attracted to becoming candidates for Ukip.
“I think it’s totally unacceptable and [Lenny Henry] is as British as you and I are.”
Mr Hunt said there was a “broader risk for Ukip here because they position themselves as the patriotic party, they plaster the Union Jack all over their leaflets, but actually there’s something very un-British about this kind of language, very unpleasant. We want to be a country where we avoid that kind of rhetoric and I think that’s where there are some real dangers for Ukip.”
Ukip deputy chairman Neil Hamilton, a former Tory MP, said the comments on Lenny Henry were a “complete distraction” from the European election campaign, adding Mr Henwood would be investigated.
“This is a council candidate [of] whom you would never have heard but for the social media archaeologists employed by Labour, [the Lib Dems] and the Tories to track down any unknown Ukip member or activist who may have said something unpleasant on social media.
“Every party has got them. We have strict rules on racism. We don’t allow it. We’re the only party that doesn’t allow ex-BNP or National Front members to be candidates and we have strict rules on social media.
Conservative backbencher David Ruffley said the Tories should take from the polls that they need to promote their pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The MP for Bury St Edmunds said: “Not many people know the Tories are the only party promising an in/out referendum. What we need to do in the next 12 months is demonstrate very clearly that David Cameron has made this pledge.”
Labour frontbencher Mary Creagh said people would go off Ukip when they examined their policies: “I think when people hear that Ukip would like people to pay to see their GPs they might go a little bit colder on them. I think most people in this country don’t mind where their neighbours come from as long as they come here to work and play by the rules.”