Boris Johnson says best way to honour Jo Cox is to 'deliver Brexit' and dismisses MPs' fears of death threats as 'humbug'

Prime minister told that his 'inflammatory' language is being picked up by people threatening violence against MPs

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 25 September 2019 21:24 BST
Johnson responds to Labour MPs' criticism of his 'pejorative language' by calling it 'humbug'

Boris Johnson has come under heavy fire for claiming that the best way to honour murdered MP Jo Cox was to "deliver Brexit".

The prime minister was repeatedly asked by MPs to tone down his “inflammatory” language which they said was fuelling abuse and death threats against parliamentarians. But Mr Johnson dismissed this as “humbug”.

He also rebuffed fears voiced by friends of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox after he drew criticism for referring to a law banning a no-deal Brexit as "the Surrender Act” and claiming that parliament had "betrayed" Leave voters.

He repeatedly used the phrases as the Commons resumed following the Supreme Court ruling that the prime minister’s decision to suspend parliament was unlawful.

Mr Johnson also claimed that the best way to honour the memory of Ms Cox, who is known for her unifying message, was to "deliver Brexit".

Ms Cox's husband Brendan later tweeted that he felt "a bit sick" at his wife's name "being used in this way."

He said: "The best way to honour Jo is for all of us (no matter our views) to stand up for what we believe in, passionately and with determination. But never to demonise the other side and always hold onto what we have in common."

And Anna Soubry, leader of the Independent Group for Change, said the language used in the Commons had reduced her to tears and forced other MPs to leave the Palace of Westminster, "such has been the distress".

John Bercow, the Commons speaker, had asked Mr Johnson to remain in the chamber as MPs voiced their concerns but he refused, instead waving his hand dismissively in the air and walking out.

Labour’s Paula Sherriff, a friend of the Ms Cox, had earlier told the prime minister that people sending MPs abuse and death threats often echoed the language he used, and said he should be “absolutely ashamed of himself”.

She mentioned a House of Commons memorial to Ms Cox, who was shot dead by a supporter of the far right in 2016, as she urged the prime minister to “moderate” his language.

Speaking during an ill-tempered debate in the Commons, Ms Sherriff said: “I genuinely do not seek to stifle robust debate but this evening the prime minister has continually used pejorative language to describe an Act of Parliament passed by this House.

“I’m sure that you would agree, Mr Speaker, that we should not resort to using offensive, dangerous or inflammatory language about legislation which we do not like.”

She added: “We stand here under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day and let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words - ‘surrender act’, ‘betrayal’, ‘traitor’ - and I for one am sick of it.

“We must moderate our language and it has to come from the prime minister first, so I would be interested in hearing his opinion. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself."

Her speech received a round of applause from Labour MPs.

But Mr Johnson dismissed her concerns, saying: “I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I have never heard so much humbug in my life.”

The prime minister also claimed that the best way to honour the memory of Ms Cox, a Remain supporter, was to “deliver Brexit”.

He made the claim in response to a point from Tracy Brabin, who succeeded the murdered MP as the representative for Batley and Spen.

Ms Brabin said: “Hearing from the prime minister words like the ‘humiliation act’, the ‘surrender act’ or the ‘capitulation act’ - all these words are suggesting that because we disagree with him, we are traitors, we are not patriots. Nothing is further from the truth.

“This may be a strategy to set the people against the establishment. I would like to gently suggest he is the establishment and we are still people.”

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She added. “As the woman who has taken over the seat left by our dear friend Jo Cox, can I ask him in all honesty as a human being, please, please will he, going forward, moderate his language so we will all feel secure when we are going about our jobs?”

Mr Johnson responded: “The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and to bring this country together is to get Brexit done.”

Asked by another Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, why delivering Brexit would honour Ms Cox’s memory, Mr Johnson said: “I believe that the continuing failure to deliver on the mandate of the people has greatly exacerbated feelings and the best way to reduce that tension is to get it done. Then the whole country can move on.

“That’s where my constituents are and I bet it’s where the majority of our constituents are."

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