Minister blasted for comments about ‘tone’ and MP’s ‘shouting’ during racism debate

Home Office minister Victoria Prentis

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins

Parliament TV

A government minister has been slammed after she said an MP was “shouting” at her during a debate about racism in Parliament.

Victoria Atkins, a minister in the Home Office, made comments to Zarah Sultana (Labour MP for Coventry South) about the “tone” debates should take after the MP suggested that members of the government like Boris Johnson and Priti Patel had encouraged racism experienced by footballers in recent days due to comments they made in and to newspapers.

Atkins said: “I had hoped we were going to be able to conduct this debate in a measured and collective way. I don’t genuinely think the honorable lady is accusing either the Prime Minister of this country, or indeed the Home Secretary of racism.

“That would be a truly extraordinary allegation to make.”

She then added: “I hope that we are able to just lower the tone a little bit.

“She’s trying to shout at me.

“In tackling these horrific incidents of racism we need to work collectively together and shouting at me across the dispatch box is not going to help with that.”

It is no secret that Parliament can be incredibly raucous with MPs jeering and shouting across the benches to support and show their disdain for various points made by their peers. That’s why the Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle frequently is forced to intervene and tell them to be quiet. So what happened in this case?

Sultana had said: “What would [Atkins] think about the Prime Minister when he was describing black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, when he used newspaper columns to mock Muslim women as letterboxes’ and ‘bank-robbers’, when he refused to condemn the booing of England players taking the knee and when his Home Secretary derided that anti-racist message as ‘gesture politics’?

“Isn’t it the case, Mr Speaker, as England star Tyrone Mings has said, that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister was stoking the fire of racism, giving the green light to racism and only now when the consequences are clear, are they feigning outrage?”

She was referring to infamous newspaper columns that Johnson wrote while working at The Telegraph. Johnson has claimed that these were taken out of context but they are regularly criticised by politicians.

She also referenced Johnson’s ambiguous comments about taking the knee. When asked to condemn the booing in June, Johnson’s spokesman said he “fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known”. Days later, it was said that the PM “wants to see everybody getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo”. Patel also called the symbol “gesture politics”, leading Mings to criticise her.

It’s not the first time politicians have been accused of tone policing their peers. Two particular occasions spring to mind. Last year, Matt Hancock (remember that guy?) told Labour MP and A&E Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan to “watch her tone” when she criticised the then Health Minister about failures with testing and PPE.

And in 2011, David Cameron said “calm down, dear” to Angela Eagle. He said he was joking and using a Michael Winner advert slogan but it went down terribly.

Atkin’s comments were similarly slammed by people on social media:

And commenting on the issue, Sultana said:

But a Home Office source insisted that the minister had not directed the “lower the tone” comment at Sultana. They added: “Ms Sultana has wilfully misrepresented Victoria’s comments in order for a few Twitter likes.”

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