A former shadow minister who was caught on camera branding an Israeli soldier a “bloody Jew” has apologised unreservedly for what he described as his “stupid remark”, writes Justin Cohen.

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MP Patrick Mercer

The BBC’s Panorama alleged that Newark MP Patrick Mercer made the comments, which have been roundly condemned by community leaders and fellow politicians, to a reporter posing as a lobbyist as part of an undercover investigation by the programme with the Daily Telegraph.

Describing an encounter with a soldier while trying to enter an “intelligence establishment” during a recent visit to the Jewish state, he was reported during last Thursday’s programme as saying: “An 18-year-old girl wearing a uniform, but with her sort of hair in plaits, and crazy jewellery and open-toed sandals, with a rifle up my nose. Who the f*** are you, you know? ‘Well I’m a soldier.’ Are you? You don’t look like a soldier to me. You look like a bloody Jew. And I’ve no doubt that if I’d come up with the wrong answer, I’d have had my head blown off.”

While the programme claimed Mercer later said he had been misheard, the MP, who served as shadow homeland security minister under Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith told the Jewish News: “I’d like to apologise unreservedly for any offence I’ve caused to all my friends in the Jewish community.” He said he had felt “extremely sorry” on watching himself recounting the encounter on the programme.

Mercer, who resigned the Conservative whip in the wake of the lobbying allegations, has previously attended events organised by both the Community Security Trust and Conservative Friends of Israel. He was also said by one Westminster source to have “always expressed an interest and admiration at Israel’s prowess” on matters of security.

While he said leaders of Anglo-Jewry had yet to make contact with him over the matter, he told the Jewish News during a phone call to the newspaper that he’d had a “terrific connection with the community” over the years and had been contacted by “Jewish friends who have been extremely supportive” following last week’s broadcast. He will also be writing to Chief Rabbi Lord sacks to express his remorse.  

Board of Deputies’ Vice President Jonathan Arkush said earlier: “If he made the remark attributed to him, it displayed a prejudice which is totally out of place for anyone to make in this country, let alone a Member of Parliament.” The CST said it was “shocked by the footage that shows Patrick Mercer making this stupid and reprehensible remark”.

Also adding its voice  to the wave of condemnation was CFI. Deputy director  Nathalie Tamam said: Patrick Mercer who has had a long and notable career of public service, will know that he was completely out of order. His alleged comments were misguided, prejudiced and deeply offensive to both women and Jewish people.” The comments formed part of last Thursday’s episode of Panorama which alleged the former army colonel broke parliamentary lobbying rules by accepting £4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji.

The programme – which approached the Newark MP posing as a representative of a fake company – claimed that the money had yet to be declared to parliamentary authorities. Ahead of the broadcast of the programme, Mercer announced he was resigning the Conservative whip to “save my party embarrassment” and would not stand at the next election in 2015.

He said: “I am taking legal advice about these allegations – and I have referred myself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.” The commissioner is investigating.