Theresa May has ordered the Conservative party’s chief whip to suspend an MP who used the N-word at an event during a discussion about Brexit.
Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot in Devon, said sorry for causing offence with her use of the word, after a string of opposition politicians accused her of racism.
However, the prime minister decided to suspend the whip from Morris after saying the remarks were shocking and unacceptable.
The row broke out after Morris was recorded telling an event: “Now I’m sure there will be many people who’ll challenge that, but my response and my request is look at the detail, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Now we get to the real nigger in the woodpile, which is, in two years what happens if there is no deal?”
Her remarks, recorded by the Huffington Post at the East India Club, caused an immediate backlash, with opposition politicians calling on May to withdraw the whip from Morris.
Within an hour of the comments emerging, Morris had issued a statement of apology. “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused,” she said in an email.
About three hours later, May released a statement saying Morris was being disciplined and the whip suspended.
“I was shocked to hear of these remarks, which are completely unacceptable,” May said. “I immediately asked the chief whip to suspend the party whip. Language like this has absolutely no place in politics or in today’s society.”
Morris is likely to carry on voting with the whip but the move notionally reduces May’s fragile majority of just six, if both Conservative and DUP MPs are included.
Politicians from across the spectrum expressed their disgust at Morris’s words, including Tory MP Heidi Allen, who said an apology was not enough and the party must show zero tolerance towards racism.
Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, called in a tweet for the prime minister to take disciplinary action:
Tim Farron, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, was one of the first to call for Morris to lose the Tory whip. “This disgusting comment belongs in the era of the Jim Crow laws and has no place in our parliament,” he said.
“The Conservative party should withdraw the whip from Anne Marie Morris and they should do it today. Every hour they leave her in place is a stain on them and the so-called ‘compassionate conservatism’ they supposedly espouse.
“I am utterly shocked that this person represents the good people of Newton Abbot. Even if she mis-spoke, this is the nastiest thing I’ve heard an MP utter since Lord Dixon-Smith uttered the same awful phrase a few years ago.”
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, also called on the Tories to remove the whip.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s campaign coordinator, said Morris’s comments were “outrageous and totally unacceptable”.
“While the Conservative party has tabled a debate on Wednesday to apparently discuss and condemn abuse of candidates in the general election, these comments prove their hypocrisy,” he said.
“Theresa May once spoke about changing the Tories’ ‘nasty party’ tag. If she’s serious about that, she will admit it’s not enough for the Tories to ‘investigate’ and will apologise and act immediately. If that means withdrawing the whip, that’s what they should do.”
Earlier this year, Morris distanced herself from comments made by her electoral agent and partner, Roger Kendrick, who told a hustings event that “the crisis in education was due entirely to non-British-born immigrants and their high birth rates”.
In response, Morris told DevonLive: “I don’t share the views expressed by Roger Kendrick.”
One person at the Brexit event contacted the Guardian because he was so shocked about what he had heard Morris say. “I attended in a professional capacity with a colleague,” he said. “I work in financial services and was there to hear about the report on enhanced equivalence being published.
“I was completely taken aback after hearing such a vile and offensive phrase being used by someone in public life, who should be campaigning against such language being used, not dispensing it herself.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010