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Boris Johnson’s brother resigns from Government during torrid day for PM

The Tory leader was criticised for using police officers in a ‘political stunt’ and saw his Commons leader reproached by the chief medical officer.

Boris Johnson had a difficult day (Danny Lawson/PA)
Boris Johnson had a difficult day (Danny Lawson/PA)

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson suffered another torrid day when his brother quit the Government, he was accused of using police officers in a “political stunt”, and his Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg was criticised by England’s chief medical officer.

Voters also heckled the Prime Minister in the streets on Thursday – as he launched his Brexit-centred campaign for an election he has so far been unable to call.

The day of unwelcome events came 24 hours after he suffered a series of blows in the Commons, when MPs approved no-deal prevention legislation and refused to grant him a general election.

Jo Johnson described facing “unresolvable tension” and being “torn between family loyalty and the national interest” as he announced his resignation as a senior minister attending meetings of his brother’s Cabinet.

The PM acknowledged a divide in Brexit opinions with his pro-EU younger sibling during a speech, as he maintained his uncompromising stance over the October 31 Brexit deadline.

He said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than go to Brussels to ask for a further delay.

Labour seized on the resignation, with shadow education secretary Angela Rayner saying: “Boris Johnson poses such a threat that even his own brother doesn’t trust him.”

Meanwhile, the PM was accused of abusing his power by speaking about Brexit while using lines of new police recruits as a backdrop during the speech in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

One recruit even became unwell and had to sit down during an address lasting at least 20 minutes.

The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson demanded an apology.

“To use police officers as the backdrop to what became a political speech was inappropriate and they shouldn’t have been put in that position,” he told the PA news agency.

“It clearly turned into a rant about Brexit, the Opposition and a potential general election. There’s no way that police officers should have formed the backdrop to a speech of that nature.”

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said it was the “wrong decision” to use the officers as a backdrop for the political speech.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill over the “political stunt” which she described as “an abuse of power”.

Boris Johnson was also distancing himself from comments made by Mr Rees-Mogg about a doctor he clashed with over no-deal Brexit contingency planning, a No 10 source said.

The Commons leader compared Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist who helped write the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer plans, with disgraced anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield.

Professor Dame Sally Davies wrote to the ardent Brexiteer to express her “sincere disappointment” about the “disrespectful way” he spoke about the doctor.

Dr Nicholl, who has criticised the Government as having an inability to stockpile certain drugs, first clashed with Mr Rees-Mogg during an LBC radio phone in.

The Commons leader escalated the row on Thursday by comparing the doctor with Mr Wakefield, who was struck off as a doctor and widely blamed for the scare over the MMR jab.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “What he had to say, I will repeat it, is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield in threatening that people will die because we leave the European Union. What level of irresponsibility was that?

“And I’m afraid it seems to me that Dr David Nicholl is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield.”

In her letter, Dame Sally said questions over the ramifications of no-deal and “consequent risk to life” are “legitimate”.

“Political leaders should be prepared to answer these questions with respect,” she added.

Mr Johnson was also reproached by voters in Yorkshire, where he was setting the scene for a “people versus Parliament” election strategy.

One man was not appeased by the PM’s assurances that his Government had been negotiating to secure a new deal in Brussels.

“You are not. You are in Morley in Leeds,” the irate voter replied.

Another approached to shake Mr Johnson’s hand and ask him: “Please leave my town.”

His Government will make a fresh attempt to call an early election on Monday, after his first failed bid to go to the country on October 15.

Opposition parties are in talks about how to respond to Mr Johnson’s proposal, but are concerned that it should be delayed until after an extension has been secured to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

A cross-party bid to require the PM to ask for a Brexit extension if there is not a deal in place cleared the Commons on Wednesday and is due to complete its progress through the Lords on Friday.

PA

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