Boris Johnson stands firm and refuses to apologise amid row over his language
Boris Johnson has stood firm and refused to apologise after he sparked fury when he told MPs they should honour the memory of murdered parliamentarian Jo Cox by delivering Brexit.
The Prime Minister ignored questions from journalists as he left a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, and Downing Street declined to say sorry for his words in the Commons on Wednesday night.
There was uproar in Parliament when the Prime Minister repeatedly berated MPs, rejected calls to temper his language and said the best way to honour Mrs Cox – an ardent Remainer – was to “get Brexit done”.
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.”
He told them to “lower the decibel level and to try to treat each other as opponents, not as enemies”.
Mr Johnson was asked whether he would apologise for his language as he left the meeting of the 1922 Committee on Thursday, but refused to answer.
However a senior Conservative MP told the PA news agency that the PM had “clarified” his words during his address to Tory MPs.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also declined to apologise, telling a Westminster briefing: “The PM obviously made the broader point last night that he believes we need to get the issue of Brexit resolved because it was causing anxiety and ill-feeling in the country.”
Asked if Mr Johnson’s comments risked fuelling a bad reaction, the spokesman said: “The PM is very clear that whatever their views no MPs or anyone else in public life should face threats or intimidation. It’s completely unacceptable.”
A Downing Street insider suggested the Prime Minister would continue to refer to the Benn Act – which seeks to prevent a no-deal Brexit – as the ‘Surrender Bill’.
“If the question is ‘is he going to stop calling it a Surrender Bill’ then the answer to that is a categoric ‘no’,” the source said.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan appeared to acknowledge concerns about Mr Johnson’s use of language, particularly in the context of threats of violence against politicians.
“But at a time of strong feelings we all need to remind ourselves of the effect of everything we say on those watching us,” she tweeted.
And Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said all people “had a responsibility to be mild in our language when we’re speaking in this House or outside”.
But Tory chairman James Cleverly defended the Prime Minister and said the “deeply uncomfortable” atmosphere in politics was unlikely to be resolved until Brexit was delivered.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will convene the latest meeting of opposition leaders in Parliament on Thursday to consider their next moves.
Mr Johnson had dismissed as “humbug” Labour MP Paula Sherriff’s claim in the Commons that like Mrs Cox, who was killed by a man with far-right sympathies just days before the 2016 referendum, many MPs faced death threats from people using the same sort of language as the Prime Minister.
Ms Sherriff told the BBC: “I believe the Prime Minister is inciting hatred towards MPs.”
Mr Corbyn said the PM’s language “was indistinguishable from the far right”, while his Liberal Democrat counterpart Jo Swinson said Mr Johnson’s comments were “a disgrace”.
Mrs Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, said he felt “a bit sick” at the way her name was being used.
The European Commission also reminded politicians to be respectful in their exchanges, and warned of the consequences when such “values” are forgotten.
Chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters: “I think respect is the key word.
“We would remind everybody that respect is a fundamental value of all our democracies and it is the responsibility of each and every politician to uphold our values, and history has shown us what happens when they are not respected.”
Despite Mr Johnson’s attacks, opposition parties again made clear they would not agree to an election until they were sure the threat of a no-deal Brexit on October 31 was off the table.
Downing Street said if opposition MPs did not take up the Prime Minister’s offer to table a no-confidence motion, the Government would take it as a mandate to press on with Brexit.
The Government will ask MPs on Thursday to agree to a three-day break for the Commons next week while the Tories hold their annual party conference in Manchester.
But amid the angry mood at Westminster, the opposition parties appear unlikely to agree, meaning Mr Johnson could be forced to rearrange his keynote speech due to be held on the final day on Wednesday.
The PM will chair a political Cabinet meeting later on Thursday which is expected to focus on the Tory Party conference.