The British National Party (BNP) is to open its doors to black and Asian members after voting to scrap its whites-only rules.
The move was forced on the anti-immigration party by legal action that could have crippled its finances. Nick Griffin, its leader, urged members to approve changes to its constitution after a court instructed it to comply with anti-discrimination legislation.
He told them there was no alternative if the BNP was to take part in this year's general election, but he reassured hard-line members that it would never become a "multi-racial" party.
The decision to ditch the rule that restricted membership to "indigenous Caucasians" was announced after an extraordinary general meeting of the BNP in Hornchurch, east London.
The party is now set to sign up its first ethnic minority member: Rajinder Singh, a 78-year-old Sikh from Northamptonshire, who is a bitter critic of Islam. Mr Griffin said: "I will be absolutely delighted to shake his hand and give him his membership card."
The BNP leader said he expected a "trickle, rather than a flood" of applications from ethnic minority Britons. He said: "We are happy to accept anyone as a member, providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British."
Yesterday's meeting was called after the Central London County Court told the BNP to amend its constitution or face legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The BNP is due to return to court next month to argue that its constitution now complies with race relations laws.
In a message to members, Mr Griffin had warned his party that they faced "legal financial meltdown", and would be unable to contest elections, if it challenged the court ruling. He added: "As for the BNP becoming a 'multi-racial' organisation, this will never happen."
The party denounced the action as politically motivated, describing the EHRC as a "government quango using the judicial process to try to nobble a political opponent". One member said after yesterday's meeting: "It was a necessity rather than something we wanted to do from the heart."
The party's revised constitution, which says it welcomes members from all backgrounds but still represents the interests of the "indigenous British", will be sent to the EHRC within days.
A spokeswoman for the commission said: "We haven't yet seen what the changes are, but hope the BNP's revised membership policy is no longer discriminatory ... When we have received this we will consider our position ahead of the next court hearing on March 9."
The EHRC first wrote to the BNP in June, to raise concerns that it believed the BNP's rules "discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds", despite a pledge from the party to clarify the word "white" on its website.
A spokesman for anti-fascist group Searchlight said: "This is a meaningless gesture by the BNP. No one seriously believes that thousands of black and Asian Britons will now be queuing up to join Nick Griffin's party. The BNP are as racist and extremist as ever."
The BNP had its most successful electoral year in 2009, winning two seats in the European Parliament and its first three places on county councils. The European breakthrough led to the BBC One's controversial invitation to Mr Griffin to appear on Question Time.
The party's main election hopes rest on the seat of Barking, east London, where Mr Griffin is trying to oust Margaret Hodge, Labour's Culture Minister.
The BNP's Sikh supporter: Rajinder Singh
After the BNP voted to allow non-whites to join the party yesterday, the first to sign up is likely to be Rajinder Singh, a 78-year-old Sikh. Mr Singh, a retired teacher, has been sympathetic towards the BNP since hearing Nick Griffin on television in 2001. He has since written for the party's newspaper, Freedom, appeared on its internet TV channel, BNPTV, and voted for them.
In 2005 he provided a character reference for Mr Griffin at his trial for inciting racial hatred. Mr Singh came to the UK from India in 1967. He blames Muslims for the death of his father during the Partition of India in 1947. He said: "I got in touch with the BNP on certain core policies that appeal to me. I also admire them since they are on their own patch, and do not wish to let anyone else oust them from the land of their ancestors."
Martin Wingfield, the BNP's communications and campaigns officer, has recently told members: "I say adapt and survive and give the brave and loyal Rajinder Singh the honour of becoming the first ethnic minority member of the BNP."Reuse content