Justice secretary Dominic Raab has started the third day of Tory conference by appearing to confuse misogyny with a hatred of men.
Raab, who is also the deputy prime minister, was mocked by critics including Labour MP Jess Phillips after he grouped in men and women when describing misogyny – which is hatred aimed at women, not men.
Echoing Boris Johnson in refusing to back calls for misogyny to be made a hate crime, Raab told BBC Breakfast: “I think we have often seen, in the criminal justice system over decades, people trying to legislate away what is an enforcement problem.
He said misogyny is “absolutely wrong whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man”.
After being questioned about his comment and told by the presenter what the definition of misogyny is, Raab did not directly address his gaffe.
Arguing that there were already laws in place for inciting hatred, intimidation and harassment, Raab replied: “What I meant was, if we are talking about things below the level of public order offences of harassment, intimidation, which are rightly criminalised – if we are talking about, effectively, insults with a sexist basis, I don’t think that criminalising those sorts of things will deal with the problem that we have got at the heart of the Sarah Everard case.”
Those issues included the actions of the police but also the broader question of women fearing their cases would not go to court and end with a conviction, Raab said.
He added: “Therefore, just criminalising insulting language – even if it’s misogynistic – does not deal with the intimidation, the violence and the much higher level of offence and damage and harm that we really ought to be laser-like focused in on.”
Raab’s mix-up of misogyny and misandry was quickly mocked on Twitter, including by Labour MP Jess Phillips, who wrote: “Give me strength. Not sure why I'd be surprised he's got form of knowing the square root of naff all.”
The Women’s Equality Party tweeted: “It’s no wonder our government won’t initiate an independent inquiry specifically into police misogyny – they don’t even know what the word means.”
Raab, a child of a refugee, was recently asked whether he would support allowing asylum seekers to work while their claims are being processed and told The Spectator that they could work and “integrate better” if “they learn the language”.
He had previously also come under fire for saying he "hadn't quite understood" how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover-Calais crossing while discussing Brexit.
The then-Brexit secretary's remarks came at a technology conference as he discussed the "bespoke arrangement" the UK sought with the EU after it leaves the bloc.
On Tuesday, the prime minister appeared to rule out making misogyny a hate crime – saying he believes existing laws should be enforced rather than new legislation brought in.
Asked if he believed misogyny should be a hate crime, Johnson told BBC Breakfast: “I think that what we should do is prosecute people for the crimes we have on the statute book.
“That is what I am focused on. To be perfectly honest, if you widen the scope of what you ask the police to do, you will just increase the problem.
“What you need to do is get the police to focus on the very real crimes, the very real feeling of injustice and betrayal that many people feel.”
Several police forces, including Nottinghamshire, North Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset, have adopted misogyny or gender as a form of hate crime for recording purposes but dozens of forces have not yet done so.
The chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, the Tory MP, Sir Bob Neill, said last week that the government should consider making misogyny a hate crime in the same way that racism was following the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence.
In July, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse told the House of Commons that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill should “enshrine misogyny as a hate crime” during a debate on the prospective legislation.
The bill, which contains a wide-ranging raft of measures aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system, is currently making its way through the House of Lords.