Calls by a Cabinet minister for broadcasters to be “patriotic” over Brexit have been branded “sinister” by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom drew fire after making the remarks in a heated TV clash.
She told BBC Newsnight: “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic.
“The country took a decision, this Government is determined to deliver on that decision.”
Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis hit back at the minister by asking her if she was being accused of being unpatriotic because she questioned whether Prime Minister Theresa May was in a position of strength in dealing with EU counterparts.
Maitlis said: “Are you accusing me of being unpatriotic for questioning how negotiations are going, questioning whether you have the position of strength that she said she wanted?”
The minister replied: “I’m not accusing you of anything, Emily.
“I’m simply saying we all need to pull together as a country.
“We took a decision a year ago today to leave the European Union, we have a very strong hand and we are very well prepared for the negotiations.”
Farron branded the comments “stupid” and called on Leadsom to apologise.
He told the Press Association: “This is a sinister threat to the free media.
“How dare Andrea Leadsom tell the press what they should think, this isn’t a George Orwell book.
“She needs to apologise for these comments and realise what she said was frankly stupid.”
Leadsom is no stranger to controversy after she pulled out of the Tory leadership race against May after telling The Times: “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
The comments provoked uproar after May had previously spoken about how she and husband Philip were affected by being unable to have children.
Firm Brexiteer Leadsom also faced challenges over her CV during the leadership contest, in particular on some of the roles she previously held in the City.
The Newsnight comments came after EU leaders cold shouldered May’s hopes for an early deal on the rights of expat citizens at a Brussels summit.
European Council president Donald Tusk said the UK plan fell below Brussels’ expectations and could worsen the situation of three million EU citizens living in the UK, while German chancellor Angela Merkel said they did not represent a “breakthrough” in Brexit talks.
The PM insisted that her offer was “fair and serious” and should reassure EU nationals in the UK that they will be able to go on living their lives as before.