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‘The wrong thing to say’: Jo Cox’s husband criticises Boris Johnson after PM discusses murdered politician

‘It was sloppy language,’ says widower after heated parliamentary debate

Zamira Rahim
Thursday 26 September 2019 10:37 BST
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Boris Johnson: best way to honour memory of Jo Cox is to 'get Brexit done'

Jo Cox’s widower has said he “felt sick” after politicians discussed his wife’s death during a heated parliamentary debate in which Boris Johnson dismissed requests to tone down his language.

The prime minister was also widely condemned for telling MPs they should honour the memory of Ms Cox, who was murdered by a far-right supporter in 2016, by delivering Brexit.

“Feel a bit sick at Jo’s name being used in this way,” Brendan Cox said on Twitter, during the debate.

“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."

“I think it was sloppy language and the wrong thing to say. But I don’t think [Boris Johnson] is an evil man,” he added on Thursday, when asked about the prime minister’s remarks.

Paula Sheriff, a Labour MP and friend of Ms Cox, told the prime minister during the debate that people sending MPs death threats often echoed the language he used, adding he should be “absolutely ashamed of himself”.

“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,” she said.

Ms Sheriff also referenced a House of Commons memorial to Ms Cox during her remarks.

“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,” she said.

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

His reaction prompted fury on the Labour benches and disquiet among some Conservatives.

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

He repeatedly used the phrase “surrender bill” despite multiple MPs following Ms Sherrif and pleading with him to moderate his language.

“I was shocked by [the debate],” Brendan Cox told Radio 4.

“It takes a fair amount to shock me now but I think I was genuinely shocked by the willingness to descend to vitriol and the type of language that was used because I think it does long lasting harm.

Mr Cox said his wife had been a public figure and it was legitimate for politicians to discuss her and the issues she cared about.

“I think what isn’t legitimate is to co-opt her memory or her beliefs for things that she didn’t believe in or didn’t say,” he added.

Kim Leadbeater, the murdered MP’s sister, said her sibling would not have wanted her name used to silence debate.

Despite this, Ms Leadbeater added that a “tipping point” was reached during the debate.

“I watched [the Commons] for two hours and I was mesmerised and dumbstruck and think the prime minister has to think very carefully about the language that he used,” she said, according to Sky News.

“There’s a tipping point and we witnessed that last night”

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When asked about the prime minister mentioning the slain MP, Mr Cox said he was trying to “approach [the matter] fairly”.

“He said this in the heat of debate,” the widower said. “I’m sure on reflection it’s something that he would probably wish he hadn’t said.”

Mr Cox added that the reason the tone of debate mattered was “because there [were] real world consequences.

“This is about the fact that this morning when I came [to Radio 4] I had to find somebody to look after my kids, because Jo’s not here,” he said.

“She would have looked after them. And she’s not here.”

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