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Johnson calls for tempers to cool after MPs condemn his Brexit language

The PM refused to apologise for ‘surrender act’ jibe but acknowledged he needs to reach out to opposition MPs to get Brexit done.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street (David Mirzoeff/PA)

By Gavin Cordon, Harriet Line, and David Hughes, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson has called for tempers to cool following the furious scenes in the Commons when he was accused of stoking violence around Brexit.

The Prime Minister refused to apologise for describing attempts to block a no-deal break with the EU as the “surrender act”.

But he acknowledged that he would have to be able to “reach out” to opposition MPs if he was to secure their support for any new deal he negotiated with the EU.

“I need to reach out across the House of Commons,” he told BBC South.

“I think it is fair enough to call the ‘surrender act’ what it is. I think it is absolutely reasonable. But we do need to bring people together, and get this thing done.

“Tempers need to come down, and people need to come together because it’s only by getting Brexit done that you’ll lance the boil of the current anxiety and we will be able to get on with the domestic agenda.”

Mr Johnson faced a furious backlash after he dismissed a complaint by one Labour MP that his “inflammatory” rhetoric risked provoking attacks on parliamentarians as “humbug”.

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Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson’s rhetoric was encouraging abuse of public figures (House of Commons/PA)

He further angered the opposition by suggesting that the best way to honour murdered MP Jo Cox – an ardent Remainer – was to “get Brexit done”.

Opposition party leaders meeting at Westminster agreed Mr Johnson’s language in the Commons chamber on Wednesday was “unacceptable” and reaffirmed their determination to prevent a no-deal “crash out” on October 31.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister’s use of terms like “betrayal” and “surrender” risked driving some people to “unbelievable extremes”.

“The Prime Minister’s language is encouraging people to behave in a disgraceful and abusive way to other public figures,” he said.

“I’ve witnessed it myself on the streets in this country.”

The febrile atmosphere at Westminster was underlined when Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson left the opposition talks early so that she could talk to the police about a threat made to one of her children.

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Jess Phillips said a man had been arrested for attacking her constituency party office (House of Commons/PA)

Labour MP Jess Phillips disclosed that a man had been arrested while trying to smash the windows and kick the door of her Birmingham Yardley constituency office.

While she said she would not “leap to blame” Mr Johnson for the specific incident – which saw staff lock themselves in for their own safety – she accused him of pursuing a “specific strategy” to provoke hatred.

“What he is doing is not human. It is manipulative, it is purposeful, it is his strategy. He wants people like me to be under threat,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Paula Sherriff, the Labour MP who remonstrated with the Prime Minister, in the Commons chamber.

“I believe the Prime Minister is inciting hatred towards MPs,” she said.

Mr Johnson insisted he deplored any attacks on MPs – particularly women, but defended his actions in the House.

“I totally deplore any threats to anybody, particularly female MPs, and a lot of work is being done to stop that and give people the security that they need,” he told BBC North West.

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Speaker John Bercow said that atmosphere in the Commons chamber was ‘toxic’ (House of Commons/PA)

“But I do think in the House of Commons it is important I should be able to talk about the surrender bill, the surrender act, in the way that I did.”

Commons Speaker John Bercow pleaded with parliamentarians on all sides to tackle the “toxic” political culture, and said the House “did itself no credit” in the angry exchanges which followed the Prime Minister’s statement.

As MPs returned to the Commons on Thursday morning, Mr Bercow said: “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.”

Even the Prime Minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson, hit out at her brother’s “strongman” tactics, accusing him of using the Commons despatch box as a “bully pulpit”.

“What we are seeing is an executive that is so keen to deliver Brexit in any shape or form … they will do anything to justify that end,” she said.

Feelings were running high following the Supreme Court ruling that Mr Johnson’s five-week prorogation of Parliament had been unlawful.

However, he risked provoking further anger after it was suggested that he could skip Prime Minister’s Questions next week in order to deliver his set piece party conference speech.

MPs voted to reject a Government motion for a three-day break, while conference is taking place in Manchester, intended to allow MPs and ministers to attend as normal.

However a Tory source insisted the event would go ahead anyway, adding: “If somebody needs to do PMQs, somebody will do PMQs.”

PA

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