Tory MP makes reference to killing women moments after Bercow called for end to 'toxic' language

Edward Leigh said the law 'prevents you murdering your wife, it doesn't make you love your wife'

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 26 September 2019 11:51 BST
'The culture was toxic' John Bercow addresses house after angry exchanges about Brexit and the PM's language

A Conservative MP made a reference to murdering women in the chamber of the House of Commons just moments after Speaker John Bercow called for an end to “toxic” language in debate.

In a highly unusual statement at the opening of business on Thursday, Mr Bercow said that the ferocious exchanges in the Commons the previous night were “worse than any I have known in my 22 years in the House”.

He revealed he is considering a call from two of Westminster’s most senior MPs - Father of the House Kenneth Clarke and Mother of the House Harriet Harman - for a formal inquiry into the UK’s political culture, amid concerns over increasingly divisive and violent language.

Prime minister Boris Johnson sparked fury on Wednesday by dismissing as “humbug” MP Paula Sherriff’s warning that his “inflammatory” language was fuelling abuse and death threats.

And attorney general Geoffrey Cox was forced to apologise after describing a question during debate as like being asked “when did you stop beating your wife?”

During debate on a bill designed to force Mr Johnson to seek an extension to Brexit talks if he cannot get a deal, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh said: “The difficulty we face is that most laws are relatively easy of interpretation, because they prevent you doing something, rather than make you do something.

“They prevent you murdering your wife, they don’t make you love your wife.”

The Gainsborough MP's comment came less than half an hour after Mr Bercow’s impassioned plea to MPs to moderate their language.

Addressing MPs from the Speaker’s chair, Mr Bercow said: "I think there's a widespread sense across the House and beyond that yesterday the House did itself no credit.

"There was an atmosphere in the chamber 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.

"This country faces the most challenging political issue that we have grappled with in decades. There are genuine, heartfelt, sincerely-subscribed-to differences of opinion about that matter.

"Members must be free to express themselves about it and to display, as they unfailingly do, the courage of their convictions.It ought, however, to be possible to disagree agreeably."

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Mr Bercow asked MPs to "lower the decibel level and to try to treat each other as opponents, not as enemies".

He said he was considering a cross-party call, received overnight, for the establishment of a “formal structure” to examine the UK’s political culture.

Ms Harman later confirmed that she and Mr Clarke had approached Mr Bercow to propose a Speaker’s Conference on protecting democracy by guaranteeing the ability of MPs to work without threat, harassment, violence or intimidation.

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