Diane Abbott has faced criticism after appearing to suggest a former general could not have been a bullying victim.

She was defending John Bercow, who has been involved in a public row with Lieutenant General David Leakey, who held the post of black rod in Parliament.

Mr Leakey has submitted a formal complaint against the former speaker ‘highlighting his bullying behaviour towards a number of parliamentary staff, including myself, over a period of years’.

In a tweet which has now been deleted, Ms Abbott wrote: ‘He had been a Lieutenant General who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

‘But claims he was bullied (i.e. intimidated and coerced) by John Bercow. Unlikely.’

Mr Bercow has denied any of the claims of bullying against him.

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‘Indeed Diane – faced with an abusive boss, we often advise members to deploy military self-defence tactics,’ he said.

‘What a ridiculous comment from an experienced MP, demonstrating blind political partisanship and a complete failure to understand how power is abused in the workplace.’

Lt Gen Leakey, who served as black rod until 2018, stood by his claims that Mr Bercow ‘brutalised’ staff after the former speaker dismissed them as ‘total and utter rubbish’.

A spokesman for military charity Help For Heroes said: ‘While our servicemen and servicewomen perform heroic acts to keep us safe, this doesn’t make them superhuman.

‘The idea that veterans are immune from bullying is a damaging misconception about many who may have endured more than most.’

Retired wing commander Dr Walter Busuttil, consultant psychiatrist and medical director at the charity Combat Stress, said: ‘We are very disappointed that an MP suggests that a veteran cannot be bullied or intimidated.’

He added: ‘At Combat Stress we commonly see veterans who have mental health problems due to being bullied in the military or even after their service.’

A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘If Diane deleted her tweet I think that probably indicates that she had concerns that it might be misinterpreted and so she probably thought better of it.

‘As a matter of course, all allegations of bullying and harassment should always be taken seriously and investigated and I’m sure Diane agrees with that.’