Cabinet minister backs South Yorkshire MP over child sex abuse comments

Sarah Champion MP
Sarah Champion MP
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A Cabinet minister has insisted there must be an "honest open debate" about child abuse after a South Yorkshire Labour MP quit following a backlash when she claimed the country had a problem with British Pakistani men raping white girls.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said racial motivation in sexual abuse cases must be addressed as he suggested Jeremy Corbyn had forced Rotherham MP Sarah Champion to resign as shadow women and equalities secretary.

The Labour leader insisted his party would not "demonise" any particular group and said the shadow Cabinet minister had been right to go.

Ms Champion apologised for her "extremely poor choice of words" in a newspaper article but the Equality and Human Rights Commission described it as a "real shame" that she had resigned due to "over-sensitivity about language".

The Labour MP had warned Britain has a "problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls" in a column for The Sun.

Mr Javid said: "Corbyn wrong to sack Sarah Champion. We need an honest open debate on child sexual exploitation, including racial motivation."

Mr Corbyn told LBC: "I think she was right to step down. In her words, she said, her continued presence there would be a distraction.

"We cannot demonise whole communities or whole groups of people because of the actions of some people."

Shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether it was right that Ms Champion stepped down.

"I think you need to ask Sarah that question," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Of course we should deal with abuse wherever it occurs and we should ask ourselves as to what we can do to ensure these things don't happen."

In an article for The Sun, Ms Champion wrote: "Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.

"There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?

"For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up.

"No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage."

More than 100 MPs and peers, including Ms Champion, later complained about "Nazi-like" language in The Sun following a comment piece by Trevor Kavanagh in which he asked what could be done about "the Muslim Problem".

It comes as Mr Corbyn continues his summer blitz of marginal constituencies with a series of visits in Lancashire, including areas with significant Asian populations.

Asked on Thursday if Ms Champion was right in what she said in The Sun article, Mr Corbyn said: "I don't think you can label a whole community. I think what you have to do is label those that perpetrate disgusting and disgraceful crimes against people, and they can be from any community, they can be white, they can be black, they can be any community, but they have to be dealt with as the crime of what it is."

Asked if Rotherham, Rochdale, Newcastle and elsewhere showed there was a "particular problem" with Pakistani men, Mr Corbyn replied: "The problem is the crime that is committed against women from any community.

"Much crime is committed by white people, crime is committed by people of other communities as well. I think it is wrong to designate an entire community as the problem.

"What I think is right is to deal with the problem of the safety and security and vulnerability of often young women, who can be groomed by all kinds of people into some awful and dangerous situations."

Questioned by ITV's Daniel Hewitt whether Ms Champion was sacked or resigned, the Labour leader repeated seven times that Ms Champion had resigned.

He added: "Listen - she resigned and I accepted the resignation.

"Well, I accepted her resignation, so clearly I did think it was the right thing to do."