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'British Empire' won the Olympics, claims Conservative MP Heather Wheeler

Government whip suggests gold for 'Empire' means Brexit will be a success

Adam Withnall
Monday 22 August 2016 19:42 BST
Ms Wheeler is the local MP for Team GB swimmer Adam Peaty's home town in South Yorkshire
Ms Wheeler is the local MP for Team GB swimmer Adam Peaty's home town in South Yorkshire (Getty)

A Conservative MP has sparked a backlash online after sharing an image suggesting the Olympics were won not by the USA, but by the “British Empire”.

Heather Wheeler, who was appointed to Theresa May’s team of government whips last month, wrote on Twitter celebrating the success of “Team GB and all our Commonwealth friends”.

Linking the result of the Olympics to the prospect for Brexit, the Eurosceptic MP said: “Now that's what I call winning!!! Well done Team GB & all our Commonwealth friends, now for the Trade Agreements…”

That comment alone may have gone unnoticed - but the graphic accompanying it has been met with an angry response.

It showed a world map with former British colonies highlighted. Superimposed on that was an alternative Rio medals table with “British Empire” on 396, “EU (Post Brexit)” on 258 and “Rest of World” on 320. The image was entitled “Empire goes for gold”.

The tweet comes after the EU was itself mocked for sharing a modified medals table showing its combined member states in the top position.

And it has been shared hundreds of times in a matter of hours, with some trying to see the funny side.

Political commentator Marina Hyde compared the tweet to the historical gaffes of Boris Johnson, saying Ms Wheeler had “announce[d] herself as Foreign Secretary-in-waiting in adorable style”.

But others were not so forgiving. Ben Grabham wrote: “Given that Empire day became Commonwealth Day in 1958 your use of Empire in this context is erroneous. And offensive.”

Chris Tacy said: “You have no empire anymore. And soon you won’t even have Great Britain. Well done.”

Aakash Jayaprakash wrote: “This is very offensive to invoke this alleged ‘empire’. Maybe look at all the facets including the killing and theft of millions.”

And Jan Smith said: “What an offensive, insensitive & ignorant comment. There's no empire; when there was we behaved appallingly. Shame on you!”

Ms Wheeler, the MP for South Derbyshire, initially backed Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom to be the new Prime Minister after David Cameron.

But when Ms Leadsom dropped out, Ms Wheeler said she and the whole of the party would “row behind” Ms May.

After she was brought into the Government on 17 July, she tweeted: “Absolutely delighted to be made a Whip & part of the new Government Team delivering for all of the UK.”

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