Tory Party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May made the decision to “withdraw the whip” from MP Anne Marie Morris, who represents the constituency of Newton Abbot in Devon, after Morris was recorded saying: “Now we get to the real n***** in the woodpile, which is in two years what happens if there is no deal?”
Morris had been speaking at a meeting of "Eurosceptics" at the East India Club about the prospect of Britain exiting the EU without a deal after Brexit. Her comments were recorded by the Huff Post.
Leading up to her comment, she had said that just 7 percent of financial services in the UK would be affected by Brexit.
“Now I'm sure there will be many people who'll challenge that, but my response and my request is look at the detail, it isn't all doom and gloom,” she said.
To have the whip withdrawn means that an MP is effectively expelled from their party—but keeps their seat—and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored.
“I was shocked to hear of these remarks, which are completely unacceptable. I immediately asked the Chief Whip to suspend the party whip,” Prime Minister May said. “Language like this has absolutely no place in politics or in today’s society.”
Before her suspension, Ms. Morris said: "The comment was totally unintentional. I apologize unreservedly for any offence caused.”
While online outrage and condemnation from her fellow MPs swiftly engulfed Ms. Morris, the spotlight also fell on two fellow pro-Brexit Tory MPs, Bill Cash and John Redwood who said nothing, and did not react after Ms. Morris had used the phrase at the launch of a report into the future for the UK's financial sector after Brexit, organized by the Politeia group.
“I don't recall her using a bad word, perhaps I wasn't paying attention,” Redwood told Buzzfeed News. Redwood said he had been preparing his own remarks. “I was thinking about what I was going to say next,” he added.
Cash told BuzzFeed News that he is “not happy at all with that sort of expression.”
“I think that's all I can say,” Cash said. “The panelists were making their own comments in their way.”
When asked if he wished he had intervened at the time, Cash said: “Each person was making their own comments and we had to get off for another meeting. I can only say that I was not happy with the references.”
After Morris’ suspension, there remained calls for her to resign, or be outright fired.
Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, said that Morris should resign, and the other two MPs who said nothing should be disciplined.
Tim Farron, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This disgusting comment belongs in the era of the Jim Crow laws and has no place in our parliament.”
The phrase “N***** in the woodpile” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something (as a concealed motive or obscure factor) contrary to appearances in a situation,” and was commonly used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was used in 2008 by Lord Dixon-Smith in the House of Lords when referring to concerns about government housing legislation. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron did not sack Lord Dixon-Smith, even though he faced calls to do so.
In June, prior to the General Election, Morris was forced to distance herself from her partner and electoral agent Roger Kendrick after another race-related controversy.
At a hustings, in a discussion about the crisis in education, Kendrick said: “It’s the fault of non-British people and their higher birth rates.”
Morris at the time told DevonLive: “I don’t share the views expressed by Roger Kendrick.”
Morris, a privately educated former corporate lawyer, became an MP in 2010. She has a healthy majority of 17,160 in Newton Abbot.
Morris’ suspension as an MP has come at a particularly perilous time for Prime Minister May, whose minority government has been forced into a controversial power-share deal with the Northern Irish DUP party. Morris’ suspension means May’s House of Commons majority is now just 12.