Attorney General under fire for tin-eared ‘joke’ about domestic violence

Using the phrase 'when did you stop beating your wife' after prorogation stymied the domestic violence bill...just isn't a good look, is it?

The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC has come under fire after comparing an MP’s question to asking ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’…after prorogation stymied the chances of the Domestic Violence Bill.

The tin-eared comment came amid an extraordinary debate, which saw the QC reel off tirades at a ‘dead Parliament’, after MPs challenged him on the (now overruled) parliamentary shut-down.

The Attorney General was forced to apologise after Labour’s Emma Hardy challenged him in a point of order.

She said: “Part of the reason people are so upset about prorogation is that the domestic violence bill has fallen….Mr Speaker can I seek advice on how the attorney general can seek to moderate his language and not make jokes about domestic violence.”

Mr Cox responded: “Let me say if I’ve given offence, I didn’t mean to…it’s an old saying at the Bar which simply relates to a cross-examination technique of asking a question which assumes the premise.”

But his assertion that it was simply ‘Bar’ chat was met with shouts of ‘disgusting’ on the opposition benches.

Speaker Bercow subtly chided the Attorney General: “This is a matter of extreme sensitivity. What I would say is that it’s incredibly important we are sensitive to the wider implications and interpretation of what we say.

“The mores of society do change,, and one can sometimes find that what one said in the past without causing offence no longer go without causing offence.”

Dawn Butler MP, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, told LFF:

“Language is important and the attorney general knows this all too well…This phrase should never be used – especially as 2 women are killed every week by a partner or former partner – and the domestic abuse bill is still not scheduled to be heard.

“Apologising whilst not apologising is more so offensive because it’s effectively saying: ‘I don’t care if you’re offended’.”

Sophie Walker, CEO of the Young Women’s Trust and former Women’s Equality Party leader, added on Twitter: “Geoffrey Cox…jokes about a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ question. Domestic violence killings are at 5 yr high. 1 woman in 4 experiences DV. Young women are giving up on politicians. Does he even wonder why?”

Bercow – who is soon to step down – had to call for calm during the debate, with Cox sounding like a rattled demagogue after the government’s Supreme Court defeat. Cox of course insisted that the government had acted in good faith and hadn’t deliberately misled the Queen. We’ll let you take a view on that one….

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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5 Responses to “Attorney General under fire for tin-eared ‘joke’ about domestic violence”

  1. Patrick Newman

    I hope Labour is on top of what the Tories are trying to do here – paint the oppositions into a picture of supporting the establishment against the heroic Johnson fighting to deliver Brexit and relieve the public of their Brexit fatigue! The Lib Dems have adopted a policy that treats the 17.4 million who voted to leave with contempt but Labour needs not to be tarred with that brush. The issue is not opposing all forms of Brexit but it is promising a referendum that will sort the issue. However, it is worth remembering that post-no-deal Brexit the government will be in perpetual discussion with the EU about recovering a relationship, not unlike what the country has left but with reduced bargaining power.

  2. nshgp

    Oh dear. Here’s Emma Hardy herself, using the same phrase in another debate.

    Shall we sack her?

  3. Simon Maxwell

    Patrick Newman: “The Lib Dems have adopted a policy that treats the 17.4 million who voted to leave with contempt but Labour needs not to be tarred with that brush. The issue is not opposing all forms of Brexit but it is promising a referendum that will sort the issue.”

    Oh, come off it. Who are you trying to kid? Labour support a so-called “People’s Vote”. The only people who want a “People’s Vote” are remainians. Therefore Labour are a Remain party. They simply don’t want to own up to that fact just yet. Anyone who wants to leave the EU should not support Labour.

  4. Patrick Newman

    After three and a half years a referendum makes sense. A million and a half of British adults eligible to vote have died since 2016. It is a case that you and Johnson-Rees Mogg are the frightened ones thinking you can sneak a no-deal Brexit under the radar and for which nobody knowingly voted.

  5. Gary

    Even I know that this phrase IS an example of antiquated law and how questions can be made unanswerable with admitting your guilty. The phrase, when answered in any way, paints the respondent as guilty. It is a long known example, and the only phrase used to describe that situation in law.

    Given that he IS a lawyer I would expect him to use it.

    I don’t think that’s the worst thing he said. Wouldn’t we be doing better to criticise him for things he said and MEANT that are toxic? For example, when speaking about the advice he had given to May over the merits of her bill and whether we would be able to withdraw from it unilaterally he said (paraphrasing) that ‘should violence escalate in Northern Ireland due to the backstop then UK would have every right to withdraw’ Seemingly innocuous but not, he was essentially nodding to his friends in the DUP. Their former leader, the late Ian Paisley, had been seen at the head of a march of a now proscribed paramilitary organisation many years back (he was interviewed by the BBC whilst marching, this was NOT hidden) and now we discover that he personally financed bombing campaigns by these same terrorists. So, put that BACK into context, he is nodding at the DUP, saying we CAN pull out if violence increases to a political party that, at best, is sympathetic to terrorists and, at worst, actually directly funds them. (my source for the Ian Paisley information is again the recent BBC programme on this subject)

    You could argue that this was said in innocence, but this would stretch credulity. A politician at the heart of government should know AT LEAST as much as someone who writes comments on Left Foot Forward.

    So please, will someone criticise him for THAT instead??

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