Labour MP apologises for dismissing alleged homophobic comments as ‘banter’

A Labour MP has apologised for claiming that alleged comments mocking an employee’s “dyke boots” were “banter”.

Allegations about the conduct of Carolyn Harris, Welsh Labour’s Deputy Leader, emerged at the trial of her former office manager Jenny Lee Clarke, who was today found innocent of fraud charges.

Clarke, who was found not guilty on all charges, alleged in court that the MP had made comments about her “dyke boots” and had made inappropriate comments about her sexuality.

Carolyn Harris

Speaking in court, Harris responded: “I don’t remember saying that but if I did it would have been banter. It’s a term for lesbian. Jenny Clarke is [a lesbian]. I’m certainly not homophobic.

“I’m an ally of the LGBT community and I have always been.”

After the conclusion of the trial today, Harris posted a statement clarifying that it is not acceptable to describe homophobic slurs as “banter”.

In her statement, Harris wrote: “During the trial, allegations were made about my behaviour. (…) 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.”

Carolyn Harris MP at the PinkNews Cardiff reception in June 2018
(Elizabeth Iafrate and Jon Pountney)

The MP added: “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. “

Carolyn Harris with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones at the PinkNews Cardiff reception

Following the conclusion of the trial, several Labour figures have called on Harris to resign, while Momentum founder Jon Lansman has urged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to suspend Harris.

Labour AM Hannah Blythyn said: “It’s never banter – it’s homophobic language. It’s not appropriate. It’s not OK. Disappointed and saddened by this.”