Elphicke apologises for comments on assault victims

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Natalie Elphicke: ‘It was an incredibly difficult and stressful time’

By Becky Morton
BBC political reporter

MP Natalie Elphicke – who defected from the Tories to Labour – has apologised for comments she made supporting her ex-husband after he was convicted of sexual assault.

Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of sexually assaulting two women in 2020.

Some Labour MPs had raised concerns about her saying he was “an easy target” for false allegations because he was “attractive”.

The Dover MP joined the Labour Party on Wednesday.

In a statement on Thursday she said she knew her defection would “put a spotlight on the prosecution of my ex-husband”.

“The period of 2017 – 2020 was an incredibly stressful and difficult one for me as I learned more about the person I thought I knew. I know it was far harder for the women who had to relive their experiences and give evidence against him,” she said.

“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.”

Speaking to BBC Political Editor Chris Mason, Mrs Elphicke said she wanted to apologise directly to those victims.

She said tackling violence against women and girls was “a critical mission for the Labour Party” and she was looking forward to working alongside her fellow Labour MPs to tackle the issue.

Mr Elphicke, who was her predecessor as MP for Dover, was jailed for two years in 2020 for sexual assault.

Mrs Elphicke ended their marriage after his conviction but supported his unsuccessful appeal.

In September 2020, she told the Sun newspaper he was “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations” because he was “attractive, and attracted to, women”.

Her previous comments had prompted criticism from some Labour MPs.

Jess Phillips, the former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Mrs Elphicke should “account for her actions”.

She told ITV’s Peston: “I’m all for forgiveness but I do think that that needs some explaining.”

Martin Abrams, a spokesman for left-wing campaign group Momentum, said Labour’s response to Mrs Elphicke’s apology showed clear “double standards”.

“A hard-right Tory MP says sorry months after offensive comments and faces no repercussions,” he said.

“Meanwhile, Britain’s first black woman MP says sorry and is suspended for a year and counting. The Labour Leadership’s commitment to equalities lies in tatters. All that matters for Starmer is how right-wing you are.”

Diane Abbott, who remains suspended from the party in Parliament while it investigates alleged antisemitic remarks, was not available for comment.

Watch: Natalie Elphicke takes seat on Labour benches

Mrs Elphicke has said she will stand down as an MP at the next election, with Labour keeping their current candidate for the Dover and Deal constituency.

Announcing her shock defection on Wednesday, she hit out at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying under his leadership the Conservatives “have become a byword for incompetence and division”.

She said the government’s record on housing and border security were the key factors behind her decision, accusing Mr Sunak of broken promises and abandoning key pledges.

Some Labour MPs also expressed concern that Mrs Elphicke’s political views did not align with the party.

The MP, who had been seen as on the right of the Tory Party, had previously been critical of Labour’s stance on immigration.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said her colleagues were “baffled” by Mrs Elphicke’s defection and she did not “believe for a second that [Mrs Elphicke] has suddenly transformed into a Labour MP”.

John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, told LBC he was “surprised and shocked”, adding: “I’m a great believer in the powers of conversion, but I think even this one would have strained the generosity of spirit of John the Baptist, quite honestly.”

‘Toxic figure’

The Labour Leader of Dover District Council, Kevin Mills, said what he had in common with Mrs Elphicke was “a limb on each corner of my body”.

He told BBC Radio Kent he was pleased she had realised “the only party that can improve this country is the Labour Party” but had “some real concerns” about her defection.

Mr Mills added that he would work with her, even though they had disagreed on issues including the dispute over P&O Ferries sackings and cuts at border controls.

The executive of the neighbouring Folkestone and Hythe constituency Labour Party said it was “shocked and appalled” that Mrs Elphicke had been accepted as a Labour MP.

“We believe that she is a toxic and divisive figure who has no place in the Labour Party and that – while it might have been temporarily headline grabbing to accept her – tremendous damage has been done to the party’s reputation in doing so,” it added.

However, Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said Mrs Elphicke was a “good, natural fit” for her party, adding: “People can change their minds.”

Labour has said she could have an unpaid role advising the party on housing policy.

She has campaigned for rent freezes and against homelessness – areas where she has common ground with Labour.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said Mrs Elphicke’s defection showed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was “an opportunist” without any “core beliefs”.

“[Labour] seem to think that it’s fine to bring people into the party who believe completely different things – or did last week – to them,” he added.

It is the second defection to Labour for Mr Sunak in less than two weeks, after Dr Dan Poulter also quit the Tories last month. However, Mr Poulter was viewed as more in the centre of the Conservative Party.

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