Sunak told to apologise after ex-minister’s ‘racial slur’ sparks diplomatic row

Rishi Sunak’s first overseas summit with other world leaders risks being undermined by a diplomatic row over a ‘crass racial slur’ used by a former Tory minister.

The Independent can reveal that the Japanese government complained about the comments, made in the House of Commons by ex-armed forces minister Mark Francois, and demanded a correction.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has now called on Mr Sunak to apologise on behalf of his party before next week’s G20, where he is expected to come face to face with the Japanese prime minister.

Japan is one of the UK’s closest allies in the region and considered a key partner.

Just last week Mr Sunak tweeted that the alliance was of “vital importance” and that the two countries would deepen “trade, defence and security ties”.

The row comes just days after a Tory minister was criticised for using the phrase “little man” in relation to China.

It erupted when Mr Francois used the word “J***” in parliament to refer to the Japanese.

On Monday he asked defence secretary Ben Wallace about delays to the Type 26 frigate, adding: “Why does it take BAE Systems 11 years to build a ship the J*** can build in four?”

His comments were condemned as an “ethnic slur” and the speaker of the Commons Lindsay Hoyle said it “should not be used”.

Mr Francois later said in a statement that he meant “no disrespect or offence” and had used the term “as an abbreviation for Japanese, as I had, by then, been asking an admittedly rather wordy question, about naval shipbuilding”.

He added that the “record clearly shows, I actually complimented the Japanese shipbuilding industry, for building warships much faster than here in Britain.”

The Japanese Embassy in London confirmed a complaint had been lodged.

A spokesman said: “The Embassy of Japan informed MP Mark Francois that the word used was inappropriate and requested the correction.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “Mark Francois’ backwards slur is sadly typical of the Conservatives blundering attempts at diplomacy that are leaving the UK increasingly isolated on the world stage.

“Before the G20 summit next week, Rishi Sunak must apologise on behalf of his whole party and take action against Francois if he does not make a full personal apology. We cannot have Tory gaffes damaging Britain’s bilateral relationships at a time when global cooperation is vital for Britain’s security and prosperity.”

No 10 declined to comment.

Mr Francois’s comments initially went unremarked.

However, the next day the embassy is understood to have lodged its complaint.

Labour MP Sarah Owen also raised the issue in the Commons, attacking the use of “ethnic slurs” and what she told MPs was an “unacceptable undercurrent of othering”.

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