Ann Widdecombe’s most controversial comments

Ann Widdecombe is no stranger to making statements that provoke fury

·7-min read
Ann Widdecombe, speaks outside the Old Bailey, central London, after Ali Harbi Ali was sentenced to a whole-life order for the murder of MP Sir David Amess and preparing acts of terrorism. Picture date: Wednesday April 13, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Ann Widdecombe caused controversy with her comments about cheese sandwiches on Wednesday. (PA)

Ann Widdecombe caused controversy on Tuesday when she said families should go without cheese sandwiches if they can’t afford the ingredients.

The outspoken former Conservative MP and Brexit Party MEP was on BBC’s Politics Live and discussing the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Widdecombe was asked what she would say to people who were unable to pay for food basics – such as the ingredients for a cheese sandwich – while prices remained high.

She responded: “Well then you don’t do the cheese sandwich.

“None of it’s new. We’ve been through this before.

“The problem is we’ve been decades now without inflation, we’ve come to regard it as some kind of given right.”

Widdecombe is no stranger to making comments that cause some kind of controversy – here's a selection of some of them.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Reform UK member Ann Widdecombe speaks during a party press conference on March 20, 2023 in London, England. Reform UK was founded in 2018 as the Brexit Party, advocating for a
Ann Widdecombe is no stranger to making controversial statements. (Getty)

Science ‘may produce an answer’ to being gay

In 2019 Widdecombe sparked a furious backlash after claiming that science could one day “produce an answer” on being gay.

Appearing on Sky News, Widdecombe was asked about whether people would want to share a platform with her because of her views on homosexuality.

She referenced the scientific progress in people being able to change gender before telling presenter Sophie Ridge: "The fact that we now think it is quite impossible for people to switch sexuality doesn't mean that science may not yet produce an answer at some stage."

Widdecombe went on: "If you simply rule out the possibility of it, you are denying people who are confused about their sexuality or discontented with it, the chances that you do give to people who want to change gender."

‘Golliwog’ comments in WhatsApp chat

During the 2019 general election campaign, Widdecombe used the offensive ‘golliwog’ term in a leaked WhatsApp conversation.

A Brexit Party supporter wrote: “Sounds like our chairman has been in the receiving end of some 'Widdy rage’.”

Widdecombe replied: “Yes. I threw all my toys out of the pram. Bears and gollywogs (sic) everywhere!!”

Widdecombe later told reporters that she was talking about “throwing my toys out of the pram”, adding: “Seventy years ago, what toys did you find in a child's pram? Right – there you go. It's a word, referring to a toy – a toy.”

She refused to apologise for using the word.

Ann Widdecombe, Brexit Party member and former member of parliament for the Conservative Party, is interviewed after Nigel Farage, Leader of Britain's Brexit Party, spoke on stage at the launch of their policies for the General Election campaign, in London, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Britain goes to the polls on Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Ann Widdecombe was elected a Brexit Party MEP in 2019. (AP)

Harry and Meghan ‘professional victims’

In 2021 Widdecombe was asked for her views on Harry and Meghan after Ofcom’s decision not to uphold complaints made against Piers Morgan.

Morgan had made several comments about Meghan, which ultimately led to him leaving Good Morning Britain.

Widdecombe hit out at Harry and Meghan for being “privileged beyond belief” during an interview with the Express.

She said: “I think Harry is very damaging to the royals, he must be personally very hurtful to the Queen.

"And I think they should keep quiet. I mean they are privileged beyond belief, and they moan that they were cut off financially. What a joke, $11 million California mansion. It's just unbelievable.

"They are privileged, they are professional victims, they are professional whingers and having said that they wanted privacy they've done nothing except publicise every last detail of life."

Watch: Ann Widdecombe’s raging rant about Brexit at the European Parliament

Slavery comparisons to Brexit

During her maiden speech in the European Parliament in 2019, the then-MEP compared Brexit to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

In comments that were condemned as “disgusting” by Labour, Widdecombe said: "There is a pattern consistent throughout history of oppressed people turning on the oppressors – slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons, colonies... against their empires, and that is why Britain is leaving.

"And it doesn't matter which language you use – we are going, and we are glad to be going."

‘Factories close all the time’

Shortly before the European Parliament elections in 2019, Widdecombe sparked fury after she appeared less than sympathetic to Honda workers facing the certainty of losing their jobs.

Honda had previously confirmed that it would be pulling out of Swindon by 2021 and when asked about the decision, Widdecombe said it was based on changes in the global car market rather than Brexit.

Asked what she would tell Honda workers facing redundancy, she said: “Listen to your management. Factories close all the time. Or they move.”

Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe has not been afraid to speak her mind on gay rights and the death penalty. (AP)

Chaining up pregnant prisoners

In 1996, while she was a minister for prisons at the Home Office, Widdecombe defended the policy of chaining up female prisoners in jail – even if they were pregnant.

Despite Labour describing the practice as "inhuman, degrading and unnecessary", Widdecombe told MPs: "We remove restraints when treatment has commenced or, in the case of pregnant women, when labour is confirmed.

"We regard that as striking the right balance between the need to maintain security and the need to recognise the mother's situation."

Widdecombe insisted that pregnant women could be able to "escape" by jumping from a first floor window during medical appointments.

Support for gay conversion therapy

Widdecombe defended gay conversion therapy in 2012, accusing the "homosexual lobby" of doing everything it could to ban it.

She said: "The unhappy homosexual should, according to gay activists, be denied any chance whatever to investigate any possibility of seeing if he can be helped to become heterosexual.

"If anybody turns to a properly qualified practitioner for help there must be a presumption that he or she can get it. It is not a state crime to want to change one's sexual leanings. Yet."

Former Conservative Party MP Ann Widdecombe speaks during a rally of the Brexit Party in Peterborough, Britain May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Ann Widdecombe has repeatedly refused to apologise for comments that caused controversy. (Reuters)

Comparing coronavirus to AIDS epidemic

In a column for the Daily Express, which was later deleted, Widdecombe compared the effort to prevent coronavirus at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to to the AIDS epidemic.

She told readers that she believed the measures to stop the spread had gone too far.

Widdecombe wrote: "I'm all for sensible precautions but I cannot help feeling that we are going mad over coronavirus.

"We have had the scare of SARs, bird flu, Ebola and of course AIDS.

"None proved as devastating as feared and more people died of the flu than have died of coronavirus."

Death penalty ‘saves lives’

In 2002 Widdecombe threw her support behind the reintroduction of the death penalty, saying it would "save lives".

The issue was brought back into public debate following the Soham murders.

She said at the time: "There is a moral choice to be made. If it is a deterrent – let's use the if – there is a moral choice to be made between saving the lives of the innocent and taking the lives of the guilty.

"That is the choice we have to make. I don't think you can ignore that choice because if you say it is a deterrent but we will not have capital punishment, then you are condemning innocent people."

Conservative Party Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdecombe speaks to reporters outside the Houses of Parliament in London June 13, 2001. Widdecombe said she would not serve in the shadow cabinet if Michael Portillo, who earlier announced his intention to run for the leadership of the party, became Conservative leader.

Ann Widdecombe has previously served in government when the Tories were in power in the 1990s. (Reuters)

Gay and single parent households ‘inferior’

In 1998 Widdecombe said that the two-parent heterosexual family should be society’s "preferred model" – and that gay and single parent households were "inferior".

Appearing on BBC Radio 4 the day after she was appointed the shadow health secretary, Widdecombe was asked whether the Conservative party should be more accommodating to gay people and single mothers.

She replied: "I certainly don't think that those sorts of lifestyle have equal validity with that of the traditional family.

"That is not to say that they should not be tolerated. I don't think you can allow every lifestyle – just because you tolerate it – equal validity with what should be a preferred model.

"No substitute has ever been found for the traditional family."