UK Politics

Labour MP Austin Mitchell defends Pfizer 'rapist' tweet

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Media captionAustin Mitchell describes the subsequent row as a "storm in a teacup"

Veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell has refused to apologise for comparing Pfizer's proposed takeover of AstraZeneca to rape.

The Great Grimsby MP took to Twitter to write: "Cameron dare not stop Pfizer because he dare not offend the US in any way. Roll up rapists."

Women's Minister Nicky Morgan described the tweet as "deeply offensive".

But Mr Mitchell condemned an "aura of political correctness" and said the row was a "storm in a teacup".

He defended his comments as "the truth", but he said he did apologise to his party leadership for "the trouble" he had caused.

"I didn't anticipate this kind of reaction," he told the BBC, adding that he feared jobs and research funding would be cut at the British firm if the takeover bid succeeded.

"You've got to bear in mind that one of the definitions of rape in the Oxford English Dictionary is to plunder and that I fear is what is going to happen to AstraZeneca at the hands of Pfizer," he said.

"People talk about the rape of the countryside and the rape of the rainforest, but it doesn't attract the tonne of abuse that has landed on my head.

"I do apologise for inconveniencing Ed Miliband and our chief whip because of all the trouble and all the reaction I've caused, but what I said was essentially the truth."

'Woman up'

He also warned: "There is a kind of aura of political correctness creeping over everything, and therefore anybody who uses colourful language is going to have to keep their mouth shut."

He then clamped his hand over his mouth to demonstrate the point to the BBC News Channel audience.

Mr Mitchell had said: "There should be a public interest provision to stop any takeovers that are going to decimate jobs, and cut research and hit a big British exporter.

"This is a row that has been whipped up for party political purposes by over-sensitive Tories who don't like the fact that AstraZeneca is going to be taken over by Pfizer, and can't defend the government's position, so they're turning the heat on somebody who is critical of that."

Conservative MP Claire Perry said she had phoned Mr Mitchell and told him it was "fine to have political debate about Pfizer-AstraZeneca but never acceptable to use rape as a corporate analogy".

She has also contacted several of Mr Mitchell's female colleagues on Twitter, urging them to condemn their colleague.

Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy replied: "I'm glad you've discovered feminism Claire, even if just for political expediency."

But Ms Perry hit back, saying: "Honey I was a feminist while you were in nappies. Now woman up and get your dinosaur colleague to apologise."

'Totally unacceptable'

Mrs Morgan said she had written to Labour leader Ed Miliband to ask what action he would take in response to the tweet.

"People across the whole country will be appalled that anybody would try to link a proposed corporate takeover with the horrific crime of rape," she wrote.

"I am sure you will agree with me that such a comparison is deeply offensive as it trivialises sex attacks and the horrific and traumatising effects such attacks can have on victims.

"I am clear that these comments are totally unacceptable and that Austin Mitchell must withdraw what he has written immediately and issue a full, unreserved apology.

"As the Leader of the Labour Party I look forward to hearing what action you intend to take in response to this totally unacceptable behaviour."

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said David Cameron also thought his analogy was "quite wrong".

A Labour spokesperson said: "The chief whip has made clear to Austin Mitchell this tweet was unacceptable. He has now apologised for what was an obvious error of judgement."

Mr Mitchell has been MP for Great Grimsby since 1977, but plans to stand down in 2015.

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Media captionEd Miliband calls for assurances on the future of AstraZeneca and possible job losses in Pfizer's bid for the firm

At Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was nothing to stop UK drugs company AstraZeneca being "carved up" and urged ministers to introduce a new test to determine if the deal was in the UK's interests.

Pfizer's assurances that jobs would be safe at the British firm were "worthless", he claimed.

But Mr Cameron said he was seeking the "strongest possible" guarantees on jobs and investment on research and development.

The UK has public interest laws governing certain takeovers, such as those involving defence and media interests, but not for science.

Appearing before MPs on Wednesday, Pfizer chief executive Ian Read said the company would honour its "unprecedented" commitments to maintain 20% of research and development operations in the UK and safeguard the future of specific plants in Macclesfield and Cambridge.

In 2012, Mr Mitchell prompted criticism on Twitter by telling the former Conservative MP for Corby, Louise Mensch: "Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn't lie about why she quit politics."

He later said the message had been meant as a joke.

In July 2013, Mr Mitchell underwent surgery to repair a leaky heart valve.

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