Sarah Champion has resigned as shadow equalities minister after a controversial article published in the Sun newspaper in which she wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.”
The MP for Rotherham had initially tried to distance herself from the article, but she said she was concerned her position in the shadow cabinet had become a distraction after it emerged her aides had signed off on the piece.
“I apologise for the offence caused by the extremely poor choice of words in the Sun article on Friday,” she said. “I am concerned that my continued position in the shadow cabinet would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career.
“It is therefore with regret that I tender my resignation as shadow secretary of state for women and equalities.”
Champion had told Jeremy Corbyn’s office her piece had been altered and issued a statement to the Guardian saying it should “not have gone out in my name”. The Sun, however, said her team had approved the piece and emailed to say they were thrilled with the final version.
A source at the newspaper said her office had been sent a PDF of the final print version. “Sarah Champion’s column, as it appeared on Friday, was approved by her team and her adviser twice contacted us thereafter to say she was ‘thrilled’ with the piece and it ‘looked great’,” a spokeswoman said.
“Indeed, her only objection after the article appeared was her belief that her picture byline looked unflattering. Her office submitted five new pictures for further use.”
Her resignation on Wednesday afternoon came after more than 100 cross-party MPs led by the Labour MP Naz Shah wrote to the Sun to condemn an article by one of its columnists.
Trevor Kavanagh said MPs had to tackle what he called “The Muslim Problem” and that Champion was one of the few politicians prepared to speak out.
As the row over the Kavanagh column grew, Champion then complained about the article published under her name, saying the opening paragraphs had been stripped of nuance.
In her published piece, Champion wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls. There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?
“For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up. No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.”
Of the Kavanagh piece, Champion said she was horrified that a “repulsive and extreme Islamophobic” column had quoted her positively. “I am ashamed that he made positive reference to my own piece. We must always stand up against racism and prejudice, whatever form it takes,” she said.
Corbyn had hinted earlier on Wednesday he was uncomfortable with Champion’s article, but expressed support for the MPs’ letter denouncing Kavanagh.
“In recent days, the Sun has published statements that incite Islamophobia and stigmatise entire communities,” he said. “That is wrong, dangerous and must be condemned, as Naz Shah’s public letter does in the clearest possible terms.”
The Labour leader’s office appeared to back Champion until Wednesday lunchtime, when positive emails from her office to the Sun in the aftermath of the piece’s publication were highlighted by the newspaper.
Corbyn’s statement in response to her resignation was brief. “I have accepted Sarah Champion’s resignation and thank her for her work in the shadow cabinet. I look forward to working together in future,” he said.
Pressure from Labour members had been building on Corbyn to sack Champion on social media since the publication of the piece publication last week, renewed by the furore over Kavanagh’s article. The West Lancashire councillor Paul Cotterill called the piece “a sinister piece of propaganda”.
The Kavanagh column has drawn widespread condemnation, including from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
“Thanks to former equalities chief Trevor Phillips, and Labour MPs such as Rotherham’s Sarah Champion, it is acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem,” Kavanagh wrote in his column, which was prompted by the conviction of 18 people involved in a child grooming gang in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The letter to the Sun from the cross-party group of MPs accused Kavanagh of using Nazi-like language regarding the Muslim community in Britain.
The letter was signed by Champion, the shadow cabinet ministers Diane Abbott and Angela Rayner, and Conservatives including the former cabinet ministers Baroness Warsi and Anna Soubry.
“Muslims currently face threats from far right and neo-Nazi groups in the UK and your publication of this article can therefore only be seen as an attempt to further stoke up hatred and hostility against Muslims,” the letter said.
A spokesperson for the Sun said: “We strongly reject the allegation that Trevor Kavanagh is inciting Islamophobia. He is reflecting the links between immigration, religion and crime in the context of a trial of largely Pakistani sex gangs.”
This article was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 16th August 2017 16.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010