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Boris Johnson is “uncomfortable” with the idea of politicians summoning journalists to explain their stories, Downing Street said after the editor of The Mail On Sunday refused a meeting with the Commons Speaker to discuss an article in his newspaper about Angela Rayner.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs on Monday he had arranged a meeting with The Mail On Sunday’s David Dillon following an outcry over claims in the article that the deputy Labour leader crossed and uncrossed her legs to distract Boris Johnson in the Commons.
In his response to the Speaker, published in the Daily Mail, Mr 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”.
Downing Street issued a thinly veiled rebuke to the Speaker over his attempt to call in Mr Dillon.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson – a former journalist – would not want “any perception of politicians seeking to in any way curb or control what a free press seeks to report”.
The spokesman added: “The Prime Minister is uncomfortable at the idea of our free press being summoned by politicians.
“We have a free press in this country and reporters must be free to report what they are told as they see fit.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail published comments made by Ms Rayner in a light-hearted political podcast in January in which she discussed comparisons between her attire and behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions and a scene in the movie Basic Instinct featuring Sharon Stone.
The Mail implies today that I somehow enjoy being subjected to sexist slurs.
They are mortifying and deeply hurtful.
— Angela Rayner 🌹 (@AngelaRayner) April 27, 2022
On comedian Matt Forde’s The Political Party, Ms Rayner said she was “mortified” by an internet meme comparing her actions to the scene in which 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.”
After the comments were reported, Ms Rayner said 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.”
In the report which triggered the row, The Mail On Sunday quoted an unnamed MP saying: “She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks.
“She has admitted as much when enjoying drinks with us on the (Commons) terrace.”
In his letter declining the meeting with the Speaker, Mr Dillon wrote that “following investigations by the Conservative Party, three other MPs who were part of the group on the House of Commons terrace, one of them a woman, have come forward to corroborate the account of Angela Rayner’s remarks given to us by the MP who was the source of last Sunday’s story”.
Sir Lindsay said he wanted to use the meeting – which had been planned for Wednesday morning – to ask “we are all a little kinder”, issuing a plea to reporters to consider the feelings of MPs and their families when covering stories in Parliament.
He made the point that he had only recently rejected calls to remove the parliamentary pass from another journalist after some MPs called for Mr Owen, who wrote the report about Ms Rayner, to have his pass removed.
“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,” Sir Lindsay said.