Starmer under pressure to investigate claim Elphicke ‘lobbied minister to intervene in husband’s trial’

Sir Keir Starmer is under pressure to investigate claims Natalie Elphicke lobbied the justice secretary in 2020 to intervene in her ex-husband’s sex offences trial.

The Labour leader has been urged to launch a probe into the claims, made by Sir Robert Buckland, who on sunday said Ms Elphicke approached him when he was lord chancellor and justice secretary before the hearing of Charlie Elphicke’s case.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said “there should always be an independent investigation into all these sorts of claims that come forward”.

Jess Phillips said there should be an investigation into the claims about Ms Elphicke (PA Archive)
Jess Phillips said there should be an investigation into the claims about Ms Elphicke (PA Archive)

Ms Elphicke allegedly told Sir Robert that it was unfair her ex-husband’s case was the first to be heard at Southwark Crown Court after the Covid lockdown and that it was being overseen by Lady Justice Whipple, The Sunday Times reported.

One person present viewed her comments as a bid to have the case moved to a lower-profile court to spare her partner public scrutiny, while another saw it as an attempt to replace the senior judge, according to the newspaper.

Sir Robert said he rejected the plea, suggesting his intervention could undermine the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciary.

The Tory MP said: “She was told in no uncertain terms that it would have been completely inappropriate to speak to the judge about the trial at all.”

A spokesman for Ms Elphicke said: “This is nonsense. It’s certainly true that Mr Elphicke continued to be supported after his imprisonment by a large number of Conservative MPs who had known him for a long time, including some who visited him and independently lobbied on his behalf, which was nothing to do with Natalie.”

And Labour shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth on Sunday defended Labour’s decision not to investigate the claims, telling Sky News: “She said it is nonsense and not her interpretation of the meeting.”

But, speaking to LBC, Ms Phillips said there should be an independent investigation.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

She said: "I think that when it’s my own side, I think it should happen in the Conservative Party, Robert Buckland needs to come forward with some more evidence for his sudden moral code.”

Shadow digital minister Sir Chris Bryant pointed to a previous probe by parliament’s standards committee which found Ms Elphicke and Conservative colleagues had attempted to “improperly influence judicial proceedings”.

“When we were doing that investigation I would have thought that if what Robert Buckland says is true, he should have told our committee,” Sir Chris said.

He added: “If anybody should be being investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, and he is perfectly independent, it is up to him to decide, frankly it should be Robert Buckland.”

The calls came as Ms Elphicke was described as “incompatible” with the Labour Party by the president of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) over her support for anti-strike laws.

Matt Wrack, who is also general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, wrote in a letter to Sir Keir: “Labour’s pledge to repeal this authoritarian legislation within 100 days of taking office, alongside the 2016 Trade Union Act, is a crucial commitment. It is therefore alarming that Natalie Elphicke has been admitted to the parliamentary Labour party.”

The letter, seen by The Guardian, said: “Elphicke was a cheerleader for the minimum service levels act and has specifically targeted firefighters in her contributions in parliament.

“On Tuesday 12 March this year, she spoke in support of the new anti-union laws by blaming striking firefighters for the deaths of three people during a past national firefighters’ strike. This is a disgraceful attack on firefighters, who protect the public and save lives every day, sometimes at great personal cost.”

Following Ms Elphicke’s shock defection last week, Labour MPs raised concerns about the decision to admit her to the party, citing her comments about Mr Elphicke’s case and his victims.

She supported his appeal against conviction, saying Mr Elphicke had been “attractive, and attracted to women” and “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

In a statement on Thursday, she said she condemned “his behaviour towards other women and towards me”, adding it was “right that he was prosecuted” and she was “sorry for the comments that I made about his victims”.