A Conservative MP has had the whip suspended after being recorded describing the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal as a "nigger in the woodpile".
Anne Marie Morris, the pro-Brexit MP for Newton Abbot in Devon, made the comment at a Monday lunchtime meeting at the East India Club organised by an organisation called Politea.
"Now we get to the real nigger in the woodpile, which is, in two years, what happens if there is no deal?" she was recorded as saying.
The prime minister Theresa May said the MP's language was "completely unacceptable".
"I immediately asked the Chief Whip to suspend the party whip. Language like this has absolutely no place in politics or in today's society," she said.
The MP later said the comment was "totally unintentional" apologised "unreservedly for any offence caused". A Conservatives spokesperson said the comments were "completely unacceptable" and they were investigating.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the phrase as an outdated, offensive term that refers to a "concealed motive or obscure factor" that runs contrary to initial appearances. It originated in the Deep South of America during the 19th century when slavery was still legal.
According to HuffPost, which obtained the recording, other panelists at the event including Conservative MPs Bill Cash and John Redwood did not object to the use of the term.
Redwood told BuzzFeed News he had no memory of hearing the term at the event, which had ended an hour earlier.
"I don’t recall her using a bad word, perhaps I wasn’t paying attention," he said.
When read the full quote, the leading Eurosceptic said he had not been listening to all of his fellow panelists as he was preparing his own comments.
"I was thinking about what I was going to say next," he said.
Cash told BuzzFeed News: “I’m not happy at all with that sort of expression. I think that’s all I can say. 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."
Kwasi Kwarteng, another Tory MP who had been due to appear on the panel, told BuzzFeed News he did not attend the event.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called for Morris to be sacked by the Conservative party: "This disgusting comment belongs in the era of the Jim Crow laws and has no place in our parliament. The Conservative party should withdraw the whip from Anne Marie Morris and they should do it today. Every hour they leave her in place is a stain on them and the so called ‘compassionate conservatism' they supposedly espouse.
"I am utterly shocked that this person represents the good people of Newton Abbot. Even if she misspoke, this is the nastiest thing I’ve heard an MP utter since Lord Dixon Smith uttered the same awful phrase a few years ago."
Caroline Lucas, coleader of the Green party, also called for Morris to have the whip removed.
In 2008 Conservative peer Lord Dixon Smith was forced to apologise for using the term in parliament.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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