MP urged to quit Labour frontbench role amid row over alleged homophobic slur

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The deputy leader of Welsh Labour is facing calls to quit her frontbench Westminster role as shadow equalities minister after becoming embroiled in a row over an alleged homophobic slur.

Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, was accused during a Crown Court trial of “outing” as gay her former constituency office manager Jenny Lee Clarke.

Ms Clarke accused Mrs Harris of referring to her “dyke boots” when they worked together for former Swansea East MP Sian James.

The MP told jurors at Cardiff Crown Court that she could not remember using the phrase but said if she had it would have been “banter”.

She has now apologised.

Ms Clarke, 42, was cleared of two charges of fraud and forgery by the jury earlier this week.

Jenny Lee Clarke (Ben Birchall/PA)

“There’s clearly a question mark as to whether it is appropriate for Mrs Harris to continue,” she told BBC Radio Wales.

She added that “had all these issues been known about before the election I think it would have affected the number of people who put in their votes for Mrs Harris” to be deputy leader.

Hannah Blythyn, Welsh Government environment minister and a former chairwoman of LGBT Labour, tweeted: “It’s never banter – it’s homophobic language.

“It’s not appropriate. It’s not ok. Disappointed and saddened by this.”

In a statement, Mrs Harris, who was first elected to Parliament in 2015, said: “During the trial, allegations were made about my behaviour during the period that Jenny and I both worked for Sian James MP.

“It was alleged that I made a homophobic comment towards Jenny. I honestly do not remember making such a comment and hearing it alleged in court struck me to the core.

“In looking to answer – honestly – I said that in the context of our time working together that ‘If I did it would have been banter’.

“I was trying to express that I would not want anyone to feel as if I were targeting them because of their sexuality, something I would never do.

“But I failed, with clumsy language that only served to make it appear as if I was trying to minimise the issue.

“I understand that banter was an entirely inappropriate – indeed offensive – word to use.

“It is a word that many LGBT people have heard used to justify homophobic abuse for too long. And I apologise – unreservedly and unequivocally – for my use of it.

“I try to be a good ally and use my platform to highlight the experiences of LGBT people.

“If I have fallen short, in my understanding or in my words, I can only hope that my actions to support the LGBT community in recent years as an MP and in the future will help heal any hurt.”

A spokeswoman for Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said: “Language matters – and language that offends, upsets or marginalises has no place in Welsh Labour.

“Carwyn spoke to Carolyn today, and said her unreserved apology was absolutely the right thing to do.”

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