Labour’s new MP Natalie Elphicke apologises for comments about her ex-husband’s victims

Labour MPs tell of ‘collective rage’ over the decision to admit ex-Tory MP as member of Labour’s ruling body calls for her to have the party whip suspended

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
,Archie Mitchell
Thursday 09 May 2024 16:01 BST
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Robert Jenrick slams Natalie Elphicke's decision to join Labour party: 'Idiotic'

The MP whose shock defection to Labour has sparked a fierce backlash against Keir Starmer has been forced to apologise for comments about her ex-husband’s victims.

Charlie Elphicke was convicted of sexually assaulting two women and sentenced to two years in prison in 2020.

Natalie Elphicke supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying he was an “attractive” man who had been “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

As anger mounted over Labour’s decision to admit her, one female Labour MP told The Independent there was a “collective rage” against Sir Keir over Ms Elphicke.

After her apology a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) called for her to be investigated and have the whip suspended, just 24 hours after she joined the party.

In a statement, Ms Elphicke said she always knew her decision to cross the floor would “put a spotlight on the prosecution of my ex-husband and I want to address some of the commentary around this head on”.

She described the period between 2017 and 2020 as “an incredibly stressful and difficult one for me as I learned more about the person I thought I knew.”

She added: “I know it was far harder for the women who had to relive their experiences and give evidence against him.

"I have previously, and do, condemn his behaviour towards other women and towards me. It was right that he was prosecuted and I'm sorry for the comments that I made about his victims.”

Natalie Elphicke has defected to Labour from the Tories (David Woolfall/UK Parliament)
Natalie Elphicke has defected to Labour from the Tories (David Woolfall/UK Parliament) (PA Media)

Her apology came after Labour’s chair Anneliese Dodds said Ms Elphicke has already been held accountable for past comments.

She appeared to be referring to the fact that the Dover MP was suspended from parliament in 2021.

However, that was after Ms Elphicke was found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over her husband’s trial, rather than for her remarks.

Ms Dodds was also tackled about the case of Diane Abbott, who has been suspended from Labour and currently sits as an independent.

Ms Dodds said she had “enormous respect” for Ms Abbott as a trailblazer but could not comment on an independent process.

Amid the growing backlash, a member of Labour’s powerful NEC said the defection was “a colossal error of judgement from Starmer”.

Jess Barnard said: “His welcoming of Natalie Elphicke undermines the fight against sexual harassment and is totally inconsistent with Labour values.

“I call on him to suspend the whip from Elphicke and apologise for the hurt caused.”

After her apology, another member of the NEC Mish Rahman said she should “have the whip withdrawn and (be) investigated”.

Jess Phillips, the former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Ms Elphicke should “account for her actions”, adding: “I’m all for forgiveness but I do think that that needs some explaining.”

The Gemini Project, a charity campaigning to end sexual violence, told The Independent its reaction was “disbelief and hurt”.

Policy director Verity Nevitt said: “In politics, too often the cause of ending violence against women and girls is only paid lip service at times where it is convenient to do so.

“The message her defection sends to survivors is nothing short of two fingers up to us, our work and our values.

“It feels as if this miscalculated risk to gain a jab at Rishi and the Tories saw and accepted that those affected by and working to end violence against women and girls would be collateral damage.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips (Luciana Guerra/PA)
Labour MP Jess Phillips (Luciana Guerra/PA) (PA Archive)

Ms Elphicke’s defection also sparked fury because of her long-standing support for the government’s Rwanda deportation policy and other controversial past statements.

After England football star Marcus Rashford, who was campaigning for free school meals, missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final, Ms Elphicke said he should have “spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics”.

She also repeatedly berated Labour and Sir Keir, describing him until recently as “Sir Softie” and suggesting he wanted open borders and had no plan to tackle small boat crossings.

She also sent out a leaflet attacking Labour just a day before defecting.

Despite the Labour backlash, the defection was a blow for Rishi Sunak, just weeks after another Tory MP Dan Poulter left the Tories for Labour.

Announcing her decision, Ms Elphicke hit out at the prime minister’s "tired and chaotic government" and accused him of failing to deliver on his promise to "stop the boats", adding that Labour would "bring a much better future for our country".

Former prime minister Lord Cameron hit back at the defection, saying it showed Labour stood for nothing.

Answering questions after a speech in London, the foreign secretary said: "What does this tell us about the party she's joining? In life, if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

"I thought that's sort of what yesterday showed, that there isn't a policy about anything, it's just been about clearing the decks to try and focus attention on the governing party."

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