Diane Abbott pulls out of BBC debate due to illness

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has pulled out of a planned BBC debate due to illness, the broadcaster said
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has pulled out of a planned BBC debate due to illness, the broadcaster said

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has pulled out of a planned BBC debate due to illness, the broadcaster said.

Ms Abbott, whose broadcast appearances have come under intense scrutiny during the election campaign, was due to take part in a debate on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, but was replaced by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.

Her decision to withdraw on Tuesday morning came after a difficult interview on Monday evening in which she appeared to struggle to answer questions about her home affairs brief.

Ms Abbott was questioned by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News about a report last year by former Metropolitan Police Authority chairman Lord Harris on security in London.

Although she said she had read the document, she appeared unable to recall any of the specific recommendations it contained.

Asked about the report, Ms Abbott said it was time to “revisit” its findings, but when asked which part, she replied: “I just think it’s about preparedness and resilience.”

The difficult interview came after she was widely mocked by political opponents and on social media over an LBC radio appearance last month in which she was unable to explain the costings for the policing policy she was launching.

Ms Abbott, however, denied reports that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell wanted to keep her off air during the remaining stages of the election, fearing she had become a liability.

“I am here. I have just come from doing another media interview. I’m going on to do another media interview. There is no truth in the idea I’m not in the media,” she told Sky.

During the interview she was pressed on whether she knew specifically what the Harris report recommended, and she said: “I know he was talking about preparedness and resilience and I do think we need to act, not necessarily on every specific recommendation.”

Asked again, she said: “I thought, because I know Toby Harris - he’s a long-standing London politician - I thought it was an important review and we should act on it, obviously acting with stakeholders.”

Mr Murnaghan then asked about Lord Harris’s recommendations for the police forces in the capital.

Ms Abbott said: “You mean the idea they should work more closely together?”

He replied: “No, he was suggesting they should amalgamate.”

Ms Abbott said it was an “interesting” idea but suggested that it would meet resistance.

Mr Murnaghan then asked her about the report’s recommendations on greater “physical resilience”. She said: “Yes, I think physical resilience is important.”

However she again appeared unaware that it included putting up more barriers to protect people until Mr Murnaghan informed her.

A Labour spokeswoman said: “Diane Abbott has had to pull out of Woman’s Hour due to illness. Emily Thornberry will take part instead.”

Cabinet minister Priti Patel said: “Jeremy Corbyn wants to make Diane Abbott home secretary in just two days but is hiding her away from voters.

“The woman who would be in charge of our police and the intelligence services cannot even be trusted by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to go on the airwaves to explain their shocking record on national security.

“Labour might be hiding her today but make no mistake, she will be in charge of our security and borders on Friday unless people vote for Theresa May and her Conservative team.”