Dominic Raab has insisted he is an “ardent champion of equality” after he was told to “eat his words” for branding feminists “obnoxious bigots” a decade ago.
Appearing in front of MPs and peers on the Joint Committee on Human Rights for the first time since being appointed Justice Secretary, Mr Raab was told “we have a bit of clearing the air to do” by chairman Harriet Harman.
During a frosty exchange on Wednesday afternoon, she also said if she had to “police all the misogyny of government ministers all the time” she “wouldn’t have time to do anything else”.
Opening the session, she thanked Mr Raab – as the lead Government minister on human rights – for attending and highlighted how the committee had “very good relations” with his predecessor Robert Buckland.
She added: “I’m hoping that we can have a good, respectful relationship with you on the same basis, but I have to say, we have a bit of clearing of the air to do at the start and I feel it’s only right for me to raise this with you directly rather than complain bitterly about it behind your back. And that is that you basically described feminists as amongst the most obnoxious bigots.
“Now, in your role as champion of human rights, you will be, I hope, defending and protecting and championing the rights of women and feminists, of which I count myself as one.”
Describing feminism as the “advocacy of the rights of women based on the theory of equality of the sexes”, she added: “Now, some people, I mean this was in 2011 and some people do say stupid things in the past, albeit, I don’t, but some people do. And I think it’s fair enough for us to allow you the opportunity, so that we can respect you knowing that you respect us, to just eat those words.
“But to call feminists, of which I regard myself as one, as an obnoxious bigot. You wouldn’t say that to me in the House, it would be out of order. So can you just eat your words on that and then we can move on.”
After saying it was a “great pleasure” to be in front of the committee, Mr Raab replied: “You’ve taken 10 years to raise that issue with me but all I would say is I think if you look at my record … you’ll find that I’ve been an ardent champion of equality and whatever the label is put on it, I am a passionate supporter of equality.”
Referring to his tenure as foreign secretary and the appointment of female G7 ambassadors “under my watch”, he added: “I’m very focused in the Ministry of Justice on the agenda of tackling violence against women and girls.”
Asked by Ms Harman if he regards himself now as “aligned with the feminist cause, rather than seeing us as obnoxious bigots”, he said: “Exactly as I articulated, I consider myself a proud champion of equality in all its forms, and I would say actions back that up.”
Thanking him for his response, Ms Harman added: “And as for the fact that I should have been after you in 2011 – If I had to police all the misogyny of government ministers all the time, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else, and therefore forgive me for not hounding you at that point. But we now have to have a proper relationship, and I hope we can, so that’s why I’ve raised it now.”