The leader of the Labour Party in Manchester, Sir Richard Leese, says he would “need a bullet in the brain” before he could ever vote for the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems are now calling his position as Council Leader into question, claiming his comments “trivialise gun violence”.
Sir Richard Leese leads Manchester Council which is the Labour Party’s largest group of councillors anywhere in the country.
The jolting comments were made after the Lib Dem opposition pushed the Labour leader over the Council’s preparations for schools and hospitals in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Richard Kilpatrick appeared to become increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in the meeting when he finally snapped; “As the Council Leader has said himself, only the Liberal Democrats are seriously trying to stop Brexit. When will the Council Leader bite the bullet, and vote for the Liberal Democrats at the next election and put an end to all this?”
Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester Council, immediately responded: “I’d need a bullet in the brain to do that! Come on!”
The ill-worded response was met by a mixed reaction in the chamber. Some councillors laughed off the remarks whilst others took a few seconds to process the shocking comments.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron MP told Politics Home he thought the comments were “unhelpful and divisive.”
He added, “Whether flippant or not, Sir Richard Leese should apologise and acknowledge this was a drastic lapse in judgement.”
The comments follow days of heated debates in the House of Commons over the use of heightened language.
MPs warned that loaded language was resulting in death threats against themselves and family members.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was heavily criticised for using phrases like “surrender bill”, “traitors”, “capitulation” and “betrayal”.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State Emily Thornberry was forced to apologise after she compared the Liberal Democrats to the Taliban over their Brexit policy.
Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell made an emotional plea to tone down the aggressive language in the House of Commons last week. She said, “I just wanted to remind the house that Jo’s murder did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in a context – a context that is not dissimilar to the context we find ourselves in today.
“I know others have said it, but it has come from one side of the house: the language of ‘surrender’, of ‘betrayal’ and of ‘capitulation’. This is the kind of language and the context that led to the murder of an MP leaving her surgery of an evening in a small market town by somebody from the far right, and we cannot forget that context when we conduct ourselves. I just wanted to put that on the record.”
It is not uncommon for Manchester Council meetings to get heated and in the past have descended into full-blown rows and aggressive standoffs.
Responding to the Sir Richard Leese’s bullet remarks, a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said, “As on previous occasions, we have made it clear that the Liberal Democrats will not tolerate abusive behaviour or language.
“No matter how much Councillors and MPs may disagree on issues they feel passionately about in the chamber, there must be a level of mutual respect.
“There’s a line – and that was crossed. To trivialise gun violence, suicide or mental health as a publicly elected representative in chambers designed to debate the concerns of our country and communities seriously brings into question your suitability for such a role.
“We would encourage Council Leader Richard Leese to apologise and retract the comments.”
In 2016, Greater Manchester Police were forced to step in after John Leech – who was the sole opposition on the Council at the time – received anonymous death threats online.
Users posted that they would ‘bring the knuckle dusters’ and take the chance to ‘crook Leech’ at a community basketball event he had agreed to attend.
The Lib Dems have been under fire since the party announced its new policy on Brexit. Dropping calls for a second referendum, the party has moved to a position of ‘Revoke and Remain’ meaning they would cancel Brexit with no ‘People’s Vote’.