Michael Gove has apologised “unreservedly” after making a joke about Harvey Weinstein on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The environment secretary compared being interviewed by presenter John Humphrys with going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom.
He added: “You just hope you emerge with your dignity intact.”
Mr Gove faced a backlash, including from fellow MPs, before tweeting it had been a “clumsy attempt at humour”.
He added: “It wasn’t appropriate. I’m sorry and apologise unreservedly.”
Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual assault and harassment by a number of actresses and employees, with many of the incidents alleged to have taken place in hotel rooms.
He insists any sexual relations he had were consensual.
Mr Gove’s apology comes after he was widely criticised for the comments, with Labour MP Jess Phillips saying the remarks were undignified and Lib Dem’s Jo Swinson told him not “trivialise sexual assault.”
‘Not a laughing matter’
Mr Gove and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock were being interviewed at 08:10 BST – a slot usually reserved for the most important political guests of the day.
In a twist to the usual format, he and Lord Kinnock were asked what they thought of the show and its interviewers.
Mr Gove said: “Sometimes, I think coming into the studio with you John is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom.”
As some laughter and applause was heard from the audience at Wigmore Hall in central London, Lord Kinnock added: “John goes way past groping.”
Mr Gove then said: “You just hope you emerge with your dignity intact.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said such issues were “not a laughing matter”, and Labour MP Stella Creasy referred to similar jokes made by chat show host James Corden, describing them as “crass”.
Green Party peer Lady Jones said Mr Gove’s comments were “ridiculous”, but noted: “A lot of people were laughing. Now, some of that might have been shocked laughter […] but there is absolutely nothing funny about it.”
A journalist in the audience for the recording, to mark the Today programme’s 60th anniversary, also said that despite the fact some people laughed, others had a “look of disgust”.Presenter and journalist Lucy Siegle said Mr Gove had “ruined” the birthday edition of the show.And LBC presenter Shelagh Fogarty said the comments were in “poor taste”.
Mr Humphrys had started the segment saying that politicians invited on the show can be, inadvertently, made to look “silly” or “contemptible in some way”.
Following his Weinstein remarks, Mr Gove went on to say: “The broader point is that you can make a fool of yourself.”
The comments come on the day Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to talk about the issue of abuse, saying MPs who abuse or sexually harass women must be “held to account”.
Downing Street has described allegations of sexual harassment in politics as “deeply concerning”.