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Labour MP accuses Fiona Bruce of 'trivialising' Stanley Johnson 'wife-beater' claims

Stanley Johnson, left, and Fiona Bruce on Thursday's Question Time. (Getty Images/BBC)
Stanley Johnson, left, and Fiona Bruce on Thursday's Question Time. (Getty Images/BBC)

A Labour MP has accused Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce of “trivialising violence against women” after her intervention about Stanley Johnson being a “wife-beater”.

The discussion surrounded allegations, first reported in 2020, that Johnson broke his wife’s nose in the 1970s.

On Thursday's Question Time, Bruce intervened to relay claims from friends of Johnson - who is reported to have been nominated for a knighthood by his ex-prime minister son Boris - that it was a “one-off” incident.

Kate Osborne, the Labour MP for Jarrow, said this was “disgraceful”.

She said: “DV [domestic violence] is rarely a one-off - no quote of the reality from Charlotte Fawcett [Johnson Wahl’s maiden surname] ‘he hit me many times’.”

A BBC spokesperson said in a statement to Yahoo News UK that Bruce was not expressing a personal opinion.

"It is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations... is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona was doing last night."

In the discussion around Johnson’s reported knighthood nomination, panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had said: “He was a wife-beater, Stanley Johnson - on record.”

Bruce then said: “Let me just intervene, I’m not disputing what they are saying but just so everyone knows what this is referring to… Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and she had ended up in hospital as a result.

"Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, it was a one-off.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  (L to R) Mayor of London Boris Johnson, sister Rachel Johnson and mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl attend the launch of Boris Johnson's new book
Boris Johnson, sister Rachel Johnson and Charlotte Johnson Wahl pictured in 2014. (Getty Images)

“Yes. But it did happen,” responded Alibhai-Brown.

In October 2020, it was first reported - via newspaper serialisations of a Boris Johnson biography by Bower - that Johnson hit Charlotte Johnson Wahl and broke her nose, leaving her needing hospital treatment.

“He made me feel like I deserved it,” Johnson Wahl, who died in 2021, said in the book.

Johnson, as Bruce said, has not commented on the incident. But “friends” told the Mail on Sunday, which serialised the book, that it was a “one-off”. They divorced in 1979.

The BBC's full statement on the row read: "Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and we would never wish to suggest otherwise.

"When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations - and any right of reply from the person or organisation - is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona was doing last night. She was not expressing any personal opinion about this situation.”

Watch: Boris Johnson's honours list shows self interest - Labour

It's not the only allegation that has been levelled against Stanley Johnson. In 2021, senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes and a journalist publicly accused him of touching them at Conservative Party conferences. Johnson said he had “no recollection” of either incident.

Meanwhile, appearing on Thursday's Question Time, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said prime ministers should “absolutely not” hand honours to family members.

Jenrick, who served in Boris Johnson's cabinet before being sacked in 2021, said: “As a principle, is it wise for a prime minister to nominate a member of their own family for an honour? No, absolutely not.”

Read more: Should Gary Lineker lose his job at the BBC? Have your say

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said earlier this week: “The idea that Boris Johnson is nominating his dad for a knighthood - you only need to say it to realise just how ridiculous it is.

“It’s classic of a man like Johnson."

The ex-PM's sister, Rachel, defended the potential nomination, telling The News Agents podcast: “If my brother hadn’t been prime minister, I think my father could have been in line for some sort of recognition in his own right.

“He’s done much more for the Tory Party and the environment than dozens of people who have been given gongs to at this point.”