Angela Rayner has hit out at claims that she viewed “sexist slurs” made against her as a joke, amid a row between the Commons Speaker and the Mail on Sunday, whose editor rebuffed an invitation to discuss an article about the deputy Labour leader.
David Dillon was asked to meet the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, after anger about comments made by Conservative MPs in a story about Rayner, in which they accused her of crossing and uncrossing her legs like the character played by Sharon Stone in the film Basic Instinct to distract Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions.
On Wednesday, the Mail ran a response from Dillon saying he would not attend the meeting, as well as a story suggesting Rayner had joked about the comparison on previous occasions with Tory MPs as well as on a podcast.
On comedian Matt Forde’s The Political Party, Rayner said she was “mortified” by an internet meme comparing her actions to the scene in Basic Instinct where Stone’s character crosses and uncrosses her legs in front of detectives while not wearing underwear.
She said: “There is a tint of misogyny in it … Every time I do a PMQs somebody has an opinion on what I wear. Did you see the meme on Sharon Stone like I was doing it at the last PMQs? I was mortified.”
Forde asked her if the suggestion was that she was “doing that to distract Boris”, to which she replied: “It doesn’t take much, does it? I don’t need to do that.”
Rayner tweeted in response on Wednesday: “I said to [Forde] in January that the sexist film parody about me was misogynistic and it still is now. As women we sometimes try to brush aside the sexism we face, but that doesn’t make it OK.
“The Mail implies today that I somehow enjoy being subjected to sexist slurs. I don’t. They are mortifying and deeply hurtful. ‘She loves it really’ is a typical excuse so many women are familiar with. But it can’t be women’s responsibility to call it out every time. I don’t need anyone to explain sexism to me – I experience it every day.
“Boris Johnson gave assurances he would unleash ‘the terrors of the earth’ on the Tory MPs spreading this vile sexism. I hope to hear what he’ll be doing about it today.”
Hoyle told MPs on Monday he had arranged a meeting with Dillon after an outcry over the claims in the article.
Dillon said he and his political editor, Glen Owen, would not be attending as journalists should “not take instruction from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be”.
The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, the chair of the women and equalities committee, wrote to Hoyle asking him to consider revoking the Commons pass of the article’s author.
However, Hoyle, who met Rayner on Monday, suggested it would not be right to remove his pass. Speaking before the meeting was rejected, he said: “I am a staunch believer and protector of press freedom, which is why when an MP asked me to remove the pass of a sketch writer last week for something he had written, I said no.
“I firmly believe in the duty of reporters to cover parliament, but I would also make a plea – nothing more – for the feelings of all MPs and their families to be considered, and the impact on their safety, when articles are written. I would just ask that we are all a little kinder.”
Downing Street has indicated Johnson disapproval of the Speaker summoning senior Mail editorial figures. The prime minister’s spokesperson said Johnson was “uncomfortable at the idea of our free press being summoned by politicians”. They added there should not be any kind of perception that politicians were seeking to control the media, and that it was right for newspapers and journalists to “have editorial independence”.
The spokesperson for Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said it was a “matter for the Speaker”.
Rayner told ITV’s Lorraine on Tuesday that she had told the Mail on Sunday: “This is disgusting. It’s completely untrue. Please don’t run a story like that.”
Conservative whips have claimed they will try to find out which Tory MP made the comments about Labour’s deputy leader.