Johnson condemns claims about Angela Rayner as ‘sexist, misogynistic tripe’
By David Hughes, Richard Wheeler and Gavin Cordon, PA Political Staff
Boris Johnson has condemned the “misogynistic tripe” aimed at Labour’s Angela Rayner after she was accused of trying to distract him in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
The Prime Minister said the “sexist” claims, made by anonymous Tory MPs and reported in the Mail of Sunday, were “appalling”.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle joined in the condemnation and said he would meet the newspaper’s editor to discuss the story.
Mr Johnson said if the source of the newspaper’s story was identified they would face “the terrors of the earth”.
There was outrage across the political spectrum after The Mail on Sunday reported the claims, including a quote from one MP that deputy Labour leader Ms Rayner “knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks”.
Asked if the row was a sign of a wider cultural problem, Mr Johnson told reporters: “It’s hard to say on the basis of that particular story.
“But I have to say I thought it was the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe.
“I immediately got in touch with Angela and we had a very friendly exchange.”
In a King Lear reference, he threatened to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on the source behind the comments if they were ever identified.
“If we ever find who is responsible for it, I don’t know what we will do, but they will be the terrors of the earth.
“It’s totally intolerable, that kind of thing.”
In the Commons, the Speaker expressed his sympathy to Ms Rayner for being the subject of comments which were “demeaning, offensive to women in Parliament” and could “only deter women who might be considering standing for election to the detriment of us all”.
“That is why I have arranged a meeting with the chair of the press lobby (and) the editor of the Mail on Sunday to discuss the issue affecting our parliamentary community,” he said.
It is understood the Speaker will meet both Mail on Sunday editor David Dillon and the newspaper’s political editor Glen Owen, along with Press Gallery chairman Andrew Woodcock.
Downing Street said the decision to call in the senior journalists was “a matter for the Speaker” but said Sir Lindsay had “talked about respecting media freedom, which is something the Prime Minister is very passionate about”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the industry watchdog, has received 5,500 complaints about the report.
Associated Newspapers, which publishes The Mail on Sunday, has declined to comment.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Ms Rayner had been “disgusted” by the claims and vowed there would be “zero tolerance” for such attitudes within his own party.
“It is rank sexism, rank misogyny. She was really disgusted that all of her political attributes were put aside for this ridiculous, offensive story,” he told ITV’s This Morning programme.
“She shouldn’t have to put up with it but all women in politics shouldn’t have to put up with it. Almost every woman in politics has had an element of this in some shape or form.
“We have got to change the culture. The culture in Parliament, it is sexist, it is misogynist. We need to change it.”
His comments echoed shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves who said earlier that the treatment of Ms Rayner was typical of what women had to put up with at Westminster.
“I’m afraid that this story just shines a spotlight on the sort of rubbish that female MPs and other women in Parliament have to put up with on a day-to-day basis,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“She doesn’t need to use her sex to win an argument or put the Prime Minister off, or whatever was suggested in that article.
“She does it by the strength of her argument, and to suggest otherwise, it’s just disgusting and it doesn’t do justice to the brilliant women we have in Parliament from all sides.”
The report came as The Sunday Times reported that three cabinet ministers and two shadow cabinet ministers were facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being referred to the parliamentary watchdog set up in the wake of the #MeToo scandal.
The paper said they were among 56 MPs who have been reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme in relation to around 70 separate complaints.
Sir Keir said: “I need to look at it within my own party wherever we see it. We will be absolutely on it with zero tolerance. There shouldn’t be a party political divide on this.”