Unrepentant Boris Johnson won’t curb language that sparked Commons row

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Picture: AFP/Getty
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Picture: AFP/Getty
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An unrepentant Boris Johnson has said he will continue to use language that sparked fury in the House of Commons and brought condemnation from members of his own party on one of the most bad-tempered parliamentary debates in living memory.

Goading opposition parties to vote for a snap general election, the Prime Minister said opposition parties were prepared to “betray” the public by seeking to delay Brexit, and called legislation to block a no-deal scenario the ‘Surrender Act’.

There was an uproar on Wednesday night as Mr Johnson repeatedly berated MPs, rejected calls to temper his language and said the best way to honour the murdered Labour politician Jo Cox - who campaigned to Remain in the EU - was to “get Brexit done”.

And confronted by female MPs over death threats using some of the same terms, Mr Johnson suggested that the best way to protect the safety of parliamentarians was to deliver Brexit.

Yesterday the Prime Minister ignored questions from journalists as he left a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, and Downing Street declined to say sorry for his words in the Commons on Wednesday night.

Mr Johnson was confronted in the voting lobbies by the Labour MP Jess Phillips, who had earlier attempted to summon the Prime Minister to the Commons through an urgent question about his conduct. The government put up a junior minister instead.

Ms Phillips said Mr Johnson “failed to answer” her questions. It was later revealed that a man had been arrested for trying to “kick the door” of her Birmingham Yardley constituency office while reportedly shouting that she was a “fascist”.

On Wednesday night Mr Johnson dismissed as “humbug” Labour MP Paula Sherriff’s claim in the Commons that many MPs faced death threats from people using the same sort of language as the Prime Minister.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Public figures, and the language they use, should be very careful because these things get repeated and then there are attacks made on individuals and death threats made against people who are elected members of Parliament.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said Mr Johnson’s comments were “a disgrace”.

Mrs Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, said he felt “a bit sick” at the way her name was being used.

In an interview with the BBC’s North West regional news programme, the Prime Minister said he “should be able to talk about the surrender bill, the surrender act, in the way that I did.”

Mr Johnson added that he “totally deplored” any threats - particularly to women MPs.

As MPs returned to the Commons yesterday morning, Commons Speaker John Bercow told them that the atmosphere in the chamber the previous night had been “worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the House”.

“On both sides passions were inflamed, angry words uttered, the culture was toxic,” Mr Bercow said, adding that the Commons “did itself no credit” with the angry scenes.

The Speaker pleaded with MPs to “try to treat each other as opponents, not as enemies”.

Mr Johnson’s behaviour was criticised by his own sister, who claimed the Prime Minister’s language was part of a “kind of strongman gambit”.

“I think that what we are seeing is an executive that is so keen to deliver Brexit in any shape or form, to get the country out of the EU, to deliver up on that promised land, that they will do anything to justify that end,” Rachel Johnson, who supports the Liberal Democrats and opposes Brexit, told the BBC.

Ms Johnson added: “I love him very much and he is a different person in the Commons.”

Scottish Tory MPs were among those who voiced concern at the rhetoric on Wednesday night from all sides - including the Prime Minister.

East Renfrewshire MP Paul Masterton condemned “silly, needless, pathetic language that fans flames, sows division and takes us no further forward”.

He added: “All sides need to self-reflect and tone it down. Prime Minister included.”

And Angus MP Kirstene Hair warned: “We are veering into very dangerous territory if all party leaders & PM fail to lead by example.”

And in Brussels, where EU sources were quoted voicing fears that Mr Johnson had lost control of the Brexit process, the European Commission warned of the consequences when democratic values are forgotten.

Chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters: “I think respect is the key word.

“We would remind everybody that respect is a fundamental value and it is the responsibility of every politician to uphold our values, and history has shown us what happens when they are not respected.”