Scandals, gaffes and bust-ups: the 2018 moments that nearly got buried by Brexit

Posted On: 
31st December 2018

It’s been another extraordinary year in British politics, with Brexit dominating the headlines and sucking much of the oxygen out of the Government’s domestic agenda. But there was plenty going on beyond the battle about Britain’s future. From mucky ministers to court dramas, here is PoliticsHome’s rundown of the scandals, rows and gaffes that Brexit forgot.

Boris Johnson created more than his fair share of political drama in 2018

Kate Osamor vs a journalist

It was Kate Osamor’s son and parliamentary aide - Ishmael - that first landed the Edmonton MP in hot water, when he was convicted for possession with intent supply of £2,500-worth of drugs at a music festival. But things escalated for her when the Times found that the-then Shadow International Development Secretary had written to the trial judge asking for leniency after previously claiming to have no knowledge of the case.

Having received no response from her, the newspaper sent a reporter to her home, at which point things got rather messy. Osamor reportedly told the journalist to “f*** off”, adding that she “should have come down here with a bat and smashed your face in” - before throwing a bucket of water at them for good measure. She subsequently resigned her Shadow Cabinet post saying she had been through a “difficult time”.

Andrew Griffiths’ sexting shame

Small business minister Andrew Griffiths stepped down in July after thousands of mucky messages he sent to two barmaids in his constituency were made public. The married minister, who was messaging the pair while his wife was pregnant with their first child, outlined a number of degrading sex acts he wished to carry out with the women. He reportedly sent them over 2,000 messages in a three-week period, including one which read: “She’s so cute, so sweet, I can’t wait to beat her. Can she take a beating?”

Griffiths later apologised for the “untold distress” he caused his family, and sought help for his mental health after the scandal broke. He was suspended while the party carried out an investigation into the incident but Griffiths had the party whip returned earlier this month so that he could take part in the confidence vote on Theresa May’s leadership.

Vince Cable’s spate of spresms

It has not been the best year for the Lib Dem leader, who racked up two headline-grabbing cock-ups. The first is the curious case of the missing vote where both Sir Vince and former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron failed to show up for a knife-edge commons vote on Brexit… his party’s key reason for existing at the moment. The embarrassment was compounded when it was alleged that Cable had been attending a dinner to discuss the establishment of a new centrist party or, as he put it, a “confidential political meeting on relevant subjects”.

The second was Vince’s, err, conference climax. In a speech heavily trailed to the media, Cable planned to brand the decision to leave the EU as the “erotic spasm” of pro-Brexit politicians... but instead he bottled it, and managed only to squeak out the words “exotic spresm”, to the delight of all journalists, everywhere.

Fiona Onasanya's conviction

Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya was convicted of perverting the course of justice just before Christmas after she was found to have lied to police to avoid a speeding charge.

Labour has “administratively suspended” her from the party and called on her to resign, with Jeremy Corbyn saying the MP was “not going to remain as the member of parliament because she been found guilty in a court of law”.

But Onasanya has so far refused to step down, instead comparing herself to Jesus and saying she is in “good biblical company” because “Joseph, Moses, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends” were also convicted by the courts of their time. Presumably not over a speeding charge.

Margaret Hodge vs Jeremy Corbyn

Labour descended into open warfare earlier this year after Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge called Jeremy Corbyn  an “anti-Semite” and a “racist” in a furious Commons bust-up. Party chiefs immediately moved to take disciplinary action against the veteran Labour figure for her outburst, issuing her with a warning just hours later. Dame Margaret later admitted she “blew her top” but refused to apologise for the remarks.

The party eventually dropped the disciplinary action against her, but not before a full-blown row that further strained relations between Labour and Jewish community groups.


Labour’s infighting over anti-Semitism meanwhile peaked during summer recess when a photo of Jeremy Corbyn and a wreath was unearthed by the Daily Mail. According to the newspaper, the scene implied that the Labour leader may have been honouring members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist group said to be behind the brutal murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Benjamin Netanyahu even waded in, sparking a row between Labour's frontbench and the Israeli PM.

However, the party strongly denied the claims, saying it was, in fact, an event remembering victims of a 1985 Israeli airstrike. But when asked if he had also taken part in the commemoration of some of Black September’s leaders who were assassinated in a 1992 attack, Corbyn replied with the immortal line: “I was present at that wreath-laying, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

Boris Johnson continues to be Boris Johnson

Scandal fan Boris Johnson is never far away from the front pages and this year was no exception. Aside from his gaffe-laden tenure at the Foreign Office he managed to squeeze in some personal drama, when it was announced he was separating from his wife after an alleged affair.

And as if that wasn’t enough, he created his own hoopla when he penned a provocative Telegraph column comparing Muslim women wearing veils to "letterboxes”. Tell Mama, which was set up with government backing to help record Islamophobic attacks, said there had been a spike in uses of the term in the wake of his column. But a recently-concluded Tory party probe ruled that he had been "respectful and tolerant" in the article, and had simply been exercising his lucrative right to free speech.

Just for good measure, the ex-Foreign Secretary also had to apologise to the House of Commons after he breached expenses rules and took too long to register nine book royalty payments amounting to almost £53,000. Sounds like chicken-feed to us.

Flat hunting

Jeremy Hunt had his very own housing crisis when he failed to declare the purchase of some luxury flats. The then-Health Secretary should have made it known to Parliament and Companies House and was forced to apologise over the omission, saying it was an “honest administrative mistake”. We’ve all been there.

Esther McVey vs the National Audit Office

Esther McVey suffered a series of embarrassments this year, with the worst culminating in a public dressing down from the National Audit Office forcing her to issue a grovelling apology in the Commons. In a highly critical letter the watchdog declared that the then-Work and Pensions had misrepresented their views on Universal Credit and therefore misled the House.

Although it is in theory a sacking offence, she got away with a retraction and was backed by the Prime Minister, who expressed full confidence in her Secretary of State. The support was not reciprocated however, when a few months later McVey quit her post in protest over Brexit. That’s gratitude for you.

Ian Paisley Jr’s jaunt

The DUP has been flexing its muscles in British politics after being handed unprecedented power at the last general election, but one of its most well-known MPs made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Ian Paisley Jr got into a whole world of trouble when he failed to register tens-of-thousands-of-pounds-worth of trips to Sri Lanka.

The offence was deemed bad enough by parliamentary authorities to suspend him for 30 days - long enough for a recall petition to be opened in his North Antrim constituency. Given his huge majority he predictably saw off the threat, served out the suspension and lived to fight another day. 

Lester we forget

The Lords proved they can be just as dysfunctional as the Commons when they closed ranks to defend one of their own against sexual harassment allegations. Lord Lester was found by the upper chamber’s Privileges and Conduct Committee to have offered a woman "corrupt inducements to sleep with him" and was in line for a hefty suspension.

But his fellow peers stepped in to block the move, voting 101 to 78 to stall any action against him. He maintained that the claims, made by author and campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera, were "completely untrue" - and then stepped down on one of the busiest news days of the year.