Tory MP apologises to Corbyn for spy claim

Ben Bradley apologises for tweet accusing the Labour leader of ‘selling British secrets to communist spies’

A vice-chairman of the Conservative party has apologised to Jeremy Corbyn and will make a “substantial” donation to charity for a tweet he made about the Labour leader’s links to cold war spies.

The climbdown by Mansfield MP Ben Bradley raises questions as to whether other Tory MPs who made similar claims about Corbyn will also issue apologies.

Bradley, who is the vice-chair for Tory youth, was threatened with legal action after making unfounded claims that the Labour leader “sold British secrets to communist spies”.

It followed claims about Corbyn’s contact with a Czech intelligence agent, Ján Sarkocy, in the 1980s, many of which have been discredited. Bradley will make a donation to a charity and a food bank in his constituency, and meet Corbyn’s legal costs, Labour said. It is believed the donation is a five-figure sum.

On the 19th of February I made a defamatory statement about @jeremycorbyn. I have apologised to Mr Corbyn and here is the complete text of my apology. Please retweet.

— Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp) February 24, 2018

Labour said Bradley has agreed to issue an apology that states: “On 19 February 2018 I made a seriously defamatory statement on my Twitter account, ‘Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp)’, about Jeremy Corbyn, alleging he sold British secrets to communist spies. I have since deleted the defamatory tweet. I have agreed to pay an undisclosed substantial sum of money to a charity of his choice, and I will also pay his legal costs.

“I fully accept that my statement was wholly untrue and false. I accept that I caused distress and upset to Jeremy Corbyn by my untrue and false allegations, suggesting he had betrayed his country by collaborating with foreign spies. I am very sorry for publishing this untrue and false statement and I have no hesitation in offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him.”

It is not the first time that Bradley, 28, has found himself in trouble for his use of social media. After being promoted in Theresa May’s January reshuffle, it emerged that he had suggested in a now deleted blogpost that benefit claimants should have vasectomies. He had also made disparaging remarks about “chavs”.

A Labour spokesman said: “We are pleased Ben Bradley has admitted what he said was entirely untrue and apologised, and that charities in Mansfield will benefit. Following the botched smear campaign against Jeremy, this case shows we are not going to let dangerous lies go unchallenged.”

Sarkocy, a former agent of the Czech StB intelligence agency, has been described as a fantasist by Corbyn’s allies. The Labour leader has confirmed that he met a diplomat from Czechoslovakia in 1986 – just one of many meetings he had with ambassadors, politicians, activists and dissidents from “the majority of countries in the world”, according to a spokesman. But many of Sarkocy’s more incendiary claims have been disproved. One meeting that Sarkocy said took place in parliament occurred on a Saturday – when Corbyn’s own diaries record that he was at a conference in Chesterfield.

Espionage experts say it was common practice for Soviet agents to embellish their reports in a bid to impress their superiors.

However, in addition to Bradley, several other Conservative MPs have used Sarkocy’s claims to attack Corbyn.

The Tory security minister, Ben Wallace, drew comparisons between the Labour leader and a notorious double agent who worked as a British spy before defecting to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tweeting in response to comments made by the Labour MP Louise Haigh, Wallace wrote: “‘Jeremy has been interested in foreign policy issues his entire political career’... yup so was Kim Philby.”

And defence secretary Gavin Williamson accused Corbyn of having ‘betrayed’ Britain. “That he met foreign spies is a betrayal of this country,” Williamson said. “He cannot be trusted.”

Labour’s former deputy leader, Lord Prescott, pointed out that the Tories had recently introduced a code of conduct for candidates standing for parliament that bars them from insulting their political rivals.

In a tweet to Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis, Prescott asked: “Now Ben Bradley has admitted he falsely smeared Jeremy Corbyn, will you now accept he breached your candidate’s code of conduct for insulting a rival and now sack him as your vice chairman?”

Tory sources said that Bradley would keep his position.


Jamie Doward

The GuardianTramp

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