What did Fiona Bruce say about Stanley Johnson? Her comments and Refuge ambassador role explained

The Question Time presenter has been accused of trivialising domestic violence

Fiona Bruce posing for an Antiques Road Show press photo
(Image credit: BBC)

The Question Time presenter has been in the headlines for comments made on last week's show, leaving many wondering what Fiona Bruce said about Stanley Johnson.

The BBC has seen two of its presenters land themselves in hot water for comments they have made in the last few days, first with Gary Lineker's tweet about the government's immigration policy, and now Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce has been accused by both the public and women's charities of trivialising domestic abuse.

The criticism comes after a discussion on the show about the news that former PM Boris Johnson planned to nominate his father Stanley for a knighthood. When one guest referenced a claim that Stanley Johnson had previously broken the nose of his wife and Boris Johnson's mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, Fiona Bruce was forced to interject. 

What did Fiona Bruce say about Stanley Johnson?

During an episode of Question Time on Thursday 9 March, presenter Fiona Bruce spoke about an incident in which Stanley Johnson had broken his wife's nose, resulting in Charlotte, his wife at the time, ending up in hospital.

On the show, panel member and  journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said Stanley Johnson’s alleged history of violence was "on record" and called him a "wife beater". Fiona Bruce was quick to interrupt, saying, "I'm not disputing what you’re saying, but just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said that Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and that she’d ended up in hospital as a result."

A collage of Fiona Bruce and Stanley Johnson

(Image credit: BBC / Getty Images)

She added: "Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen but it was a one-off."

Her comments prompted accusations that she was trivialising domestic abuse, with critics taking issue at her mentioning the incident was a "one-off."

Domestic abuse charities have condemned the comments, with Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women's Aid, saying: "We know at Women’s Aid that domestic abuse is rarely, if ever, a 'one-off', with the vast majority of abuse being a pattern of behaviour. Even if abuse is an isolated event, it would have still been domestic abuse, and this should never be minimised."

Fiona Bruce has since stepped down as an ambassador for the charity Refuge.

What has Fiona Bruce said since?

Fiona Bruce has said she was "required to legally contextualise" Alibhai-Brown’s comments about Stanley Johnson as the presenter of Question Time, and that it was not her own opinion she was expressing.

Ina  statement, Fiona Bruce has said: "I have been a passionate advocate and campaigner for all survivors of domestic abuse, and have used my privileged position as a woman in the public eye to bring this issue to the fore, notably in my work for over 25 years with Refuge. But following the events of last week, I have faced a social media storm, much of which mischaracterised what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me."

In a  statement, Fiona Bruce has said: "I have been a passionate advocate and campaigner for all survivors of domestic abuse, and have used my privileged position as a woman in the public eye to bring this issue to the fore, notably in my work for over 25 years with Refuge. But following the events of last week, I have faced a social media storm, much of which mischaracterised what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me."

"When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing … She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation."

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Why has Fiona Bruce stepped down as a Refuge ambassador?

In her statement, Fiona Bruce said she was stepping down as an ambassador to avoid "distraction from Refuge’s critical work." Refuge is a charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, and Fiona Bruce has been a supporter for around 25 years.

She said: "The only people that matter in all this are the survivors, they are my priority. The last thing in the world that I would want is that this issue in any way creates a distraction from Refuge’s critical work on their behalf, and therefore I think the right thing to do is to step back from my role with Refuge.

"This has been a hard decision for me as I feel so strongly about promoting their work and advancing awareness of this issue. I will continue to be an active supporter, albeit from the sidelines for now."

Refuge accepted the decision, and in response to the fallout has said: "Refuge’s position was, and remains, clear – domestic abuse is never a ‘one-off’, it is a pattern of behaviour that can manifest in a number of ways, including but not limited to physical abuse. Domestic abuse is never acceptable.

"Over the weekend we have been listening to, and heard, survivors of domestic abuse who have told us how devastating this has been for them. While we know the words were not Fiona’s own and were words she was legally obliged to read out, this does not lessen their impact and we cannot lose sight of that."

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Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.