The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has apologised to Diane Abbott for “clumsy language” after describing the shadow home secretary as “coloured” in a radio interview.
In a tweet after the interview, Abbott said the use of coloured was an “offensive and revealing choice of words”.
The comment came during an interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2, in a section of the discussion connected to the abuse and online trolling suffered by many MPs.
Asked by Vine if such abuse was worse for female politicians, Rudd said: “It definitely is worse if you’re a woman. And it’s worst of all if you’re a coloured woman. I know that Diane Abbott gets a huge amount of abuse, and I think that’s something we need to continue to call out.”
The choice of words was not mentioned in the interview, though Rudd then went on to talk about the particular abuse faced by “black, and black and minority ethnic women” in politics.
Abbott tweeted: “The term ‘coloured’, is an outdated, offensive and revealing choice of words.” She also retweeted a message from her fellow Labour MP Danielle Rowley saying: “She clearly gets her language from the same bygone era as her abhorrent welfare policies.”
Downing Street said Rudd’s apology should close the matter. A spokeswoman said: “She apologised very swiftly. She has described it herself as clumsy language. That was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Earlier, Rudd had appeared in a Conservative video to mark International Women’s Day in which she and other senior female Conservative MPs read out sexist abuse about themselves.
One tweet Rudd read out described her as “less attractive than Medusa’s fugly sister”.
It was a generally difficult day for the government, with Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, coming under increasingly intense pressure despite apologising for saying that deaths caused by police and soldiers during the Troubles were not crimes.
The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, also faced criticism after suggesting to a Labour MP that calls for a debate on Islamophobia in the Conservative party were a matter for the Foreign Office.
At ministerial questions, Naz Shah, the Bradford West MP, asked about a debate on the issue, given discussions on the definition of Islamophobia and what she called a crisis in the Conservative party.
Leadsom began by saying her party had acted in cases where Islamophobia had been highlighted. “We have been extremely robust and urgent in our response to that,” she said.
Leadsom added that on a definition of Islamophobia she would “encourage her to perhaps seek an adjournment debate in the first instance so she can discuss with Foreign Office ministers whether that would be a useful way forward”.
Shah tweeted later: “She said: speak to Foreign Office ministers about Islamophobia. When did attacks on BRITISH Muslims become a foreign issue?”