Tory whips will be “looking at whether they know” who made comments about Angela Rayner to a newspaper that have been roundly condemned as sexist, a minister has told Sky News.
Technology minister Chris Philp said he expected that if the source of the comments to the Mail on Sunday about Labour’s deputy leader were discovered they would be likely to be “subject to discipline”.
Boris Johnson has said he deplores “the misogyny directed at her anonymously” and is understood to have communicated that view in a “short but heartfelt” WhatsApp message to Ms Rayner.
The newspaper article said Conservative MPs had accused Ms Rayner of deliberately distracting Mr Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
One anonymous source was reported as saying: “She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks.”
On Monday, Mr Philp told Sky News: “I was appalled that that sentiment was being expressed.
“It’s offensive, it’s misogynistic.
“The prime minister and cabinet ministers have been absolutely right to roundly condemn that sentiment and to offer support to Angela Rayner on this issue
“I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that or even hinted it and if I did I would be disgusted and appalled.
“Nobody should have to suffer the kind of misogynistic abuse which that sentiment amounts to.
“If it ever comes out who said that then I imagine they would be subject to discipline.”
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
Minister: Rayner article ‘misogynistic’
Asked whether whips would be seeking to find out who briefed the newspaper, Mr Philp said: “I think they’ll be looking at whether they know who said this.
“I’ve got no idea who said it.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me or even hinted at it.
“I think everybody is appalled by the misogynistic sentiment.
“We all need to keep the tone of discourse in public life civil and respectful and focus on the issues that our constituents expect us to deal with, not engage of this kind of – what essentially is – abuse.”
Ms Rayner responded to the article over the weekend saying: “Women in politics face sexism and misogyny every day – and I’m no different.
“Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders have resorted to spreading desperate, perverted smears in their doomed attempts to save his skin.”
On Monday, Ms Rayner’s front bench Labour colleague Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said that with “great sadness” she was “not surprised” at the story.
“This sort of sexism and misogyny is frankly the sort of rubbish that female MPs but also female staffers in the House of Commons have to put up with every single day.
“When I hear a minister say ‘I haven’t heard this sort of thing before’ – talk to your female colleagues, talk to the women who work in your office, because a lot of them would have experienced this sort of thing.”