LONDON - A Conservative front bencher was sacked in a racism row today after he said being called a "black bastard" was part and parcel of Army life for ethnic minority soldiers.
Patrick Mercer, the Tories' shadow homeland security minister and a former Army colonel, also said he knew "a lot" of ethnic minority servicemen in the Army who used perceived discrimination as an excuse for poor performance.
Mercer, MP for Newark, told The Times that suffering racial abuse -- as well as abuse about facial features, hair colour and weight -- was common in the Army and to be expected.
"That's the way it is in the Army," he said. "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."
The row erupted a day after the Ministry of Defence said it would investigate all claims of racist behaviour in the Army, following a complaint from a Belize-born solider that he had complained without success about racism for the seven years of his service.
Conservative party leader David Cameron said Mercer's comments were "completely unacceptable".
"I regret that they were made," Cameron said in a statement. "We should not tolerate racism in the Army or in any walk of life."
Cameron has been striving to make his party more open and inclusive, and move it towards the political centre-ground.
Cabinet minister Jack Straw also condemned Mercer's comments.
"I think it's breath-taking and dreadful," he told Reuters. "I think that his resignation is an appropriate step in the circumstances."
Mercer apologised after the row broke out.
"The offence I have obviously caused is deeply regretted," he said in a statement.
"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."