Now outgoing shadow homeland security minister Patrick Mercer has issued the following statement after he had appeared to downplay the significance of racist abuse in the armed forces and had said that some ethnic minority soldiers used the excuse of racism as cover for their inadequacies:

"The offence I have obviously caused is deeply regretted. I had the privilege to command soldiers from across the East Midlands of whom many came from racial minorities. It was a matter of great pride to me that racial minorities prospered inside the unit, and, indeed at one stage all of my Company Sergeant Majors were black.  What I have said is clearly misjudged and I can only apologise if I have embarrassed in anyway those fine men whom I commanded. I have no hesitation in resigning my front-bench appointment."

David Cameron said the following:

“The comments made by Patrick Mercer are completely unacceptable and I regret that they were made. We should not tolerate racism in the Army or in any walk of life. Patrick Mercer is no longer a Shadow Minister.”

The two most explosive quotes below come within an interview for Times Online:

"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.  I remember one guy from St Anne’s (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends. When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: ‘I was racially abused’. And we’d say: ‘No you weren’t, you were off with your girlfriends again’."

"I had five company sergeant majors who were all black. They were without exception UK-born, Nottingham-born men who were English – as English as you and me… They prospered inside my regiment, but if you’d said to them: ‘Have you ever been called a nigger?’ they would have said: ‘Yes’. But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time – a far harder time than a black man, in fact.  But that’s the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you’d get people shouting: ‘Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard’."

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