Emily Thornberry

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Person.png Lady Emily Nugee   Facebook IMDB Powerbase Twitter WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Lawyer, Politician)
Emily Thornberry.jpg
BornEmily Anne Thornberry
27 July 1960
Surrey, England
Alma materKent University
Parents • Cedric Thornberry
• Sallie Thornberry
Children1 daughter 2 sons
SpouseSir Christopher Nugee
Member ofLabour Friends of Israel

Employment.png Shadow Attorney General Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
29 November 2021 - Present
Preceded byCharlie Falconer

Employment.png Shadow Foreign Secretary Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
27 June 2016 - 4 April 2020
Preceded byHilary Benn
Succeeded byLisa Nandy

Employment.png Shadow First Secretary of State

In office
14 June 2017 - 4 April 2020

Employment.png Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
5 January 2016 - 27 June 2016
Preceded byMaria Eagle
Succeeded byClive Lewis

Employment.png Shadow Employment Minister

In office
16 September 2015 - 6 January 2016

Employment.png Shadow Attorney General Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
7 October 2011 - 3 December 2014
Preceded byPatricia Scotland
Succeeded byWilly Bach

Emily Thornberry (born 27 July 1960) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington South and Finsbury since the 2005 General Election and is currently Shadow Attorney General in Keir Starmer's Shadow Cabinet. She was previously Shadow Foreign Secretary in Jeremy Corbyn's team.

Emily Thornberry had been one of six candidates standing in the 2020 Labour Party leadership contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn following Labour's defeat at the UK/2019 General Election.[1]


Emily Thornberry was born in Surrey, the daughter of Sallie and Cedric Thornberry. She studied law at the University of Kent before practising as a barrister from 1985 to 2005, specialising in human rights law under the guidance of Michael Mansfield. She married High Court Judge Sir Christopher Nugee in 1991 and has three children.


Emily Thornberry was first elected to Parliament in 2005, serving on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee from 2005 to 2010. In the 2005–2010 Parliament, she spoke out on both housing issues and issues relating to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, as well as voting against the whip on issues relating to national security on several occasions.

Thornberry was re-elected in the 2010 General Election, and appointed Shadow Attorney General in Ed Miliband's team, serving until she resigned on 20 November 2014 after sending a tweet that some perceived as snobbish.[2] She was again re-elected in the 2015 General Election. After Jeremy Corbyn won the 2015 Labour leadership election on 12 September, Thornberry was appointed Shadow Minister of State for Employment. In a shadow cabinet reshuffle in January 2016, she became Shadow Defence Secretary, replacing Maria Eagle.[3]

In June 2016, Emily Thornberry was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in another reshuffle.[4]

Foreign Affairs


On 30 June 2016, when Shami Chakrabarti's report into alleged antisemitism in the Labour party was published and Jeremy Corbyn's comments at the press conference were misconstrued by the commercially-controlled media, Emily Thornberry phoned the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev to apologise. Corbyn had said:

"Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations."

When later asked if he was comparing Israel to Islamic State, Corbyn said:

"No, no of course I'm not. The point in the report is that you shouldn't say to somebody just because they're Jewish, you must have an opinion on Israel. Any more than you say to anyone who is a Muslim you must have an opinion on any vile action that's been taken by misquoting the good name of Islam. I just ask people to be respectful and inclusive in their debate."

A source close to Emily Thornberry said Ambassador Regev "had no issue with the speech."[5]


On 11 October 2016, in a House of Commons emergency debate on the situation in Syria, Emily Thornberry accused Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of hypocrisy and of preferring “brinkmanship” to “statesmanship”. She told her fellow MPs that it was inadmissible that the government expressed concern over the Syrian civilians trapped in the five-year war, while it continued selling arms to allies in the region:

“If we say those things about Russia and Aleppo we must be prepared for what they say about Saudi Arabia and Yemen. We cannot condemn one and continue selling arms to the other, we cannot call for investigations into one and say to the other that we are happy for them to investigate themselves. We cannot pour scorn on the assurances of one that they have not hit civilian targets while blithely accepting the assurances of the other. Most of all, Mr Speaker, we cannot cry for the people of Aleppo and the suffering they face while turning a blind eye to the million children in Yemen facing starvation.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary also challenged the government on its eagerness to intervene in the war in Syria, standing firmly against an unenforceable no-fly zone and arguing for “more statesmanship and less brinkmanship.”[6]


In January 2018, following violent demonstrations in Iran, Downing Street warned Iranian leaders that “Britain was watching” and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged them to “debate the legitimate and important issues” raised by protesters. The Huffington Post reported that Emily Thornberry claimed Labour is unable to back demonstrators protesting against the Iranian government because it is unclear who has the White Hats:

“Our approach now is one of extreme caution when it comes to Iran, and a recognition that the society in Iran is a immensely complex one, and seemingly contradictory.
“For example, with these current riots, sometimes they are...calling to reinstate the monarchy, sometimes they’re calling out against Khamenei, sometimes they’re calling for Khamenei, sometimes they’re calling for the price of eggs.
“It’s very difficult, in those circumstances to actually come to a conclusion as to what political forces are behind the current disputes on the streets of Iran, so we take a cautious approach.”
"We don’t want to leap to judgement and say, well we don’t like the regime in Iran, these people are against it, they must be the guys with White Hats, because it doesn’t work like that.
“We’ve seen that in Syria, we’ve seen it in Libya, we see it time and time again in Egypt...we cannot simply impose our views on people who are fighting against, you know, Mubarak, who we don’t like.”[7]


Violence in Yemen: Impressive Emily Thornberry

On 11 September 2018, Emily Thornberry opened her contribution to the parliamentary debate on Yemen as follows:

"On this day of 9/11, especially at this time of day, we should all pause and pay our respects to the almost 3,000 innocent people killed in the attacks on New York and Washington 17 years ago today, including the 77 British victims. Our thoughts are especially with their families, friends and colleagues, ​for whom this day always brings such painful memories and to whom we owe a constant duty to fight the scourge of jihadi terrorism wherever it rears its head."

Her statement concluded:

"When even the Trump Administration, in the shape of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, said in the wake of the bus bombing that American support for the Saudi coalition was not 'unconditional', suggesting that if the coalition could not 'avoid innocent loss of life', that support could be withdrawn—when even the Trump Administration is willing to take that moral stance when it comes to arms sales—we are bound to ask this Government why they alone seem to believe that military support for the Saudi coalition should apparently come without conditions, without strictures and without scrutiny.
"That brings us to our third demand, which I know has support across this House, including from the all-party group on Yemen. It is this simple request: that the Government do their job—do the job that they have been assigned to do at the UN Security Council and bring forward a resolution to order an immediate ceasefire on all sides, to allow open access for humanitarian relief, and to provide the space and time for what will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process of negotiating a lasting peace and a long-term political solution, rather than what we have seen over the past week, with the Saudi coalition responding to the setbacks over talks in Geneva with an immediate and brutal renewal of its assault on Hodeidah.
"Next month, it will be a full two years since the UK’s delegation at the UN circulated a draft resolution that would have achieved all of those ends—a draft that, had it been tabled, agreed and successfully implemented, could have ended the war long ago and saved the lives of Mr Tayyib’s three sons. It is too late for them, but not too late for all the other children in Yemen, facing a fourth year of war—a fourth year of hardship, of fear, of saying goodbye to their parents each morning and not knowing if that will be the last time. We cannot let this go on. We cannot delay any longer in submitting that resolution at the ​Security Council and trying to force all sides to respect a ceasefire to allow humanitarian relief and to proceed, in good faith and with patience, with the Geneva peace talks.
"It may be difficult. It may not even succeed. But to borrow a phrase that the Government will understand, from the former Foreign Secretary, 'The scandal' at present 'is not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried'.”[8]

Saudi Arabia

Emily Thornberry's brilliant takedown of Saudi war crimes and Tory complicity

On 22 October 2018, Emily Thornberry told Parliament:

"First, may I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and join him in sending condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s family and his fiancée, Hatice, a lady who waited in anguish outside the consulate for 11 hours while the Saudi butchers went about their barbaric work.

"She wrote this weekend:

'They took your bodily presence from my world. But your beautiful laugh will remain in my soul forever.'

"The worst aspect of this disgraceful murder is that none of us has been remotely surprised about it. For the past three years, my party has warned about the actions of Mohammed bin Salman, first as the architect of Saudi policy on Yemen and then since his elevation to Crown Prince — doubling the rate of executions in his first eight months; kidnapping and beating up the Prime Minister of Lebanon and forcing him to resign; and jailing women’s rights activists and threatening to behead them.

"All those things have shown a man with no respect for the rule of law, no respect for international boundaries and no tolerance for dissent, all of which spelt the end for Jamal Khashoggi.

"Of course, we have seen the Crown Prince’s true face most vividly in his continuing campaign in Yemen: a strategy of blockade and bombardment that has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes and put millions of children on the brink of starvation. When we look back at his air campaign, with the bombings of weddings, funerals and school buses, we have seen a repeated pattern played out. When major civilian casualties are reported, first they deny the reports are true; then they deny responsibility; and when the proof becomes ​incontrovertible, they say it is all a terrible mistake, they blame rogue elements, promise those will be punished and say it will not happen again — until the next time, when it does.

"This is exactly the same pattern we have seen here, which speaks of a Crown Prince who takes his allies for fools and relies on the fact that his lies will be believed, he will be exonerated and everyone will return to business as usual once the publicity has subsided — well not this time. Enough! It must not happen again.

"The Government must wake up to the reality of who the Crown Prince is. It is just seven months since the Prime Minister rolled out the red carpet for him at Chequers, fawned all over him and hailed him as a great reformer. How utterly foolish she looks now, as some of us predicted she would do. The new Foreign Secretary has the chance to be different. He has just said, as he did on Friday morning, that if these stories are true there will be consequences for Britain’s relationship with Riyadh.

"But I ask him: how much more confirmation does he need? It is time to move on from asking what happened in Istanbul and who gave the orders — we all know the answers. The question is: what will the consequences that he promised be?

"I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider three immediate steps:

"First, will he use the new Magnitsky powers included in the sanctions Bill to apply financial penalties on all individuals, up to and including the Crown Prince himself, who ordered and carried out this murder?

"Secondly, will the Foreign Secretary accept that UK arms sales for use in Yemen must be suspended pending a comprehensive, UN-led investigation into all alleged war crimes?

"Thirdly, more than two years on since the UK presented its draft resolution to the UN demanding a ceasefire in Yemen, will he finally ignore the informal Saudi veto hanging over that resolution and at last submit it to the UN Security Council?

"Those are three ways to show Saudi Arabia that there are consequences for its actions, three ways to end its impunity and persuade it to change its ways, and three ways to show this Crown Prince that we will no longer be played for fools — we have had enough."[9]


Standing in for Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs on 31 January 2018 (David Lidington deputising for Theresa May on a visit to China), Emily Thornberry called for 16-year-olds to be given the vote. Reminding the House of Commons that it was the centenary of women’s suffrage and that the vote had at first been extended to women over the age of 30 who owned property, and then 50 years ago given to all 18-year-olds – so how many years would we have to wait until 16-year-olds could vote?

Thornberry pointed out that Britain had led the way in reducing the voting age from 21 to 18, so why not do so again? At 16 people are free from parental control, can leave home, start a family, join the forces and start work, she said.

“There is no logical principled objection to votes at 16, which is why every party in this house supports it except the Tories and the DUP.”

Their opposition to change made them not a coalition of chaos – May’s warning against voting Labour at the General Election, frequently thrown back at the Tories after their deal with the DUP – “they’re a coalition of cavemen”.

After an objection to the “unparliamentary language” was shot down by the Speaker, Thornberry concluded, asking:

“Why doesn’t the minister realise the lessons that we women taught our predecessors? When change is right it cannot be resisted for ever and this is change whose time has come.”[10]