Boris Johnson has apologised after calling Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, as “Lady Nugee” in reference to Thornberry’s husband, Sir Christopher Nugee. Speaker John Bercow said calling the senior Labour MP that was inappropriate and sexist.
Johnson was answering a question about the value of the Commonwealth when he made a disparaging remark about the Labour frontbench and aimed the comments at Thornberry. She had previously challenged the foreign secretary saying if the UK was prepared to take Russia to court about the attempted murder of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal with the use of poison. Part of Johnson’s reply was: “Lady Baroness whatever it is, I can’t remember what it is … Nugee.”
“First, we do not name call in this chamber, and secondly … we do not address people by the titles of their spouses. The shadow foreign secretary has a name and it is not ‘Lady Something’. We know what her name is and it is inappropriate and frankly sexist to speak in those terms, and I am not having it in this chamber. That is the end of the matter. That parlance is not legitimate, it will not be allowed, and it will be called out.”
The interruption was met with applause from Labour MPs. Johnson followed with an apology “for any inadvertent sexism or discourtesy that you may have deemed me to be guilty of”.
Thornberry has occasionally been teased by Conservative critics about her formal title. She also complained to Bercow last year, about Theresa May referring to her as Lady Nugee in the Commons. She said:
“Is it in order for the prime minister to refer to a member of this House not by her own name, but by the name of her husband?”
May responded that she would apologise if Thornberry were concerned about the reference, but that May herself has been referred to by her husband’s name for the last 36 years.