Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has apologised for using the word “coloured” in a BBC interview.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott criticised the use of the term, saying it was “outdated”, “offensive” and a “revealing choice of words”.
During a discussion about MP abuse, Ms Rudd said: “It’s worst of all if you’re a coloured woman. I know that Diane Abbott gets a huge amount of abuse.”
In her apology, Ms Rudd said she was “mortified at my clumsy language”.
The prime minister’s official spokeswoman said making an apology was “absolutely the right thing to do”.
Historically, the word is associated with segregation, especially in the US, where black people were kept separate from white people – on public transport, or at drinking fountains which were described as “coloured-only” for example.
It is regarded as an offensive racial slur which recalls a time when casual racism was a part of everyday life.
The exchange happened during an interview on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show.
Host Jeremy Vine asked Ms Rudd: “The question is, given that all people in the public eye seem to get terrible tweets from strangers, whether it’s worse if you’re a woman?”
Ms Rudd replied: “It definitely is worse if you’re a woman, it’s worst of all if you’re a coloured woman.
“I know that Diane Abbott gets a huge amount of abuse, that’s something we need to call out.”
But Ms Abbott responded on Twitter, saying it was a “revealing choice of words”.
Former home secretary Ms Rudd apologised on Twitter.