The climate change minister, Claire Perry, has sought to explain comments in which she described critics of the Brexit divorce bill as “the swivel-eyed few”, saying she was simply responding to colleagues being called traitors.
She made the comments in a WhatsApp message to a private group of Conservative MPs, reported the Telegraph.
Perry, who campaigned for remain in the EU referendum, was replying last month to another Tory MP, Ben Bradley, who said he was “getting some shit from the usual subjects about sell-outs and traitors” over reports the government would agree to pay the EU £39bn as part of the Brexit process.
Perry wrote: “The ‘sell-out traitor mob’ should be ignored. Listening to them means wrecking the economy in the short term and via a Corbyn government delivering a long, steady, slow decline for the country we love.
“I would hypothesise that they are mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school-aged children or caring responsibilities so they represent the swivel-eyed few not the many we represent.”
The phrase “swivel-eyed” is particularly resonant within the Conservative party over Brexit after an ally of David Cameron, in 2013, described party activists pushing for an EU referendum as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.
In a series of tweets, Perry said the comments were made “at a time when we were all working so hard to get the Brexit bill passed last year”.
She wrote: “Passions were running high and mine spilled over. No excuses but it was painful to see hard-working, loyal colleagues branded as ‘traitors’.
“My comments were exclusively directed at those using the term of ‘traitor’ to describe my colleagues, and to suggest that I am somehow applying them to anyone else is 100% wrong.
“Whether one voted leave or remain in 2016 no longer matters. There is a unity of purpose to deliver the smooth and orderly Brexit that the PM and Brexit secretary are negotiating.”