Liberal Democrat councillor Bryn Griffiths said he had immediately apologised to Richmond MP Rishi Sunak after using an archaic phrase to highlight his concerns over adult social care provision at residential homes in North Yorkshire.
During a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee at County Hall, Cllr Griffiths, said: “Another n***** in the woodpile is that we are going to lose a lot of people because of Brexit, people who staff these places. It is an immediate problem.”
Cllr Griffiths said he had also written an unreserved apology to Mr Sunak and members of the committee, but one member of the committee has issued a formal complaint to the authority’s monitoring officer and assistant chief executive, sparking a probe.
Cllr Griffiths, who has represented Stokesley for more than a decade, said: “There was no intent, it was a complete mistake on my behalf.
“It is no excuse, but I had a cold and hadn’t slept. Thirty years in the steel industry and things slip out when they shouldn’t. If there is any other process, such as training, I am more than happy to undertake that.”
Councillors who attended the meeting described Cllr Griffiths’ comment as “more than unfortunate”, but added they believed it to have been said in error as it was at complete odds with his views.
The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said: “Whilst shocked by Bryn’s statement I personally believe it was a turn of phrase or slip of the tongue with no racist intent.
“Knowing Bryn as I do, I do not believe he is racist in any shape or form. As Bryn is an opposition member, it would be easy for me to sit back without offering any character reference and allow this to become his party’s political difficulty.
“That said, whilst still believing it was crass, stupid and insensitive to say the least, I do not believe there was any sinister or racist intent. Of course, any inquiry must be allowed to take its process and follow due procedure. The public expect high standards from their elected councillors.”
A council spokesman said: “When elected, members sign a code of conduct, which clearly sets out the standard of behaviour expected in public office. Any alleged breach of this code will be investigated by the monitoring officer.”
A spokesman for Mr Sunak declined to comment.
Use of the phrase has previously sparked controversy, with David Cameron being urged to sack Conservative peer Lord Dixon-Smith for using it during a House of Lords debate to describe concerns over government housing legislation.
Last year, Theresa May ordered the Conservative Party’s chief whip to suspend MP Anne Marie Morris for using the phrase – commonly used in by authors including Agatha Christie and in films until the 1930s – at an event during a discussion about Brexit.