Government refuses to back down over ‘surrender’ comments despite pleas for calm
The Government is refusing to back down over calls to moderate its language, with ministers continuing to accuse MPs of “surrendering” British power.
There were calls from across society – including from more than 100 bishops and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn – to tone down the political narrative, as the Prime Minister looked to stoke up a “people versus Parliament” rhetoric.
Despite the pleas, International Development Secretary Alok Sharma defended Boris Johnson’s decision to dub the Benn Law, which commits the Government to extending Article 50 if no exit deal is agreed, the “surrender act”.
He said the law, drafted and passed by Opposition MPs against the Government’s will, was “a form of capitulation” to Brussels.
“If you look at the fundamentals of what that Bill does, it does surrender our ability to have effective discussions with the European Union and it does surrender our ability to be able to walk away from the table if that is what happens,” Mr Sharma told the BBC’s Today programme.
“We are surrendering our ability to negotiate effectively with the EU,” the Cabinet minister continued.
“If you were going into a negotiation with both hands tied behind your back, would you not think it somehow a form of capitulation?”
The PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings was also unrepentant on Thursday, saying the fury of some voters was unsurprising, as the Church of England criticised MPs’ language as “not worthy of our country”.
The senior adviser criticised many MPs as being “disconnected” from what people think in the “real world”.
Mr Cummings, the PM’s de facto chief of staff told an audience at the book launch of a Vote Leave backer on Thursday night: “It is not surprising some people are angry about it.
“In the end the situation can only be resolved by Parliament honouring its promise to respect the result.”
He added: “We are enjoying this, we are going to leave and we are going to win.”
In a confrontation with Labour MP Karl Turner in Westminster, the strategist told the shadow minister to “get Brexit done” if he wanted to see the political discourse calm.
Parliamentary tensions prompted about 120 archbishops and bishops to issue a statement warning against “further entrenching our divisions”.
The PM caused upset during fiery exchanges in the Commons where he repeatedly described attempts to block no-deal as the “surrender act”.
He also dismissed a Labour MP’s complaint that his “inflammatory” language risked provoking attacks as “humbug”.
Speaker John Bercow has similarly come in for criticism for failing to be neutral when overseeing Brexit debates in the Commons.
Mr Bercow has announced he will stand down at the next election or October 31, whichever comes first. He has previously told audiences that he voted to Remain.
Eleanor Laing, Deputy Speaker and one of the contenders for Mr Bercow’s position, said: “The person who occupies the chair should use moderate language and not be aggressive.
“It’s not necessarily my opinion, but there are large numbers of MPs who feel that the impartiality of the chair has been possibly diminished.”
Parliament next sits on Monday, with MPs using social media to voice their happiness at being able to escape Westminster.
On Thursday, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson had to leave cross-party talks early so she could speak to police about a threat made to one of her children.
And 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 yelling “fascist”.
Mr Johnson did not apologise for his words and instead called for a cooling of tempers.
“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,” he said.
But Jeremy Corbyn said the PM’s use of terms like “betrayal” and “surrender” risked driving some people to “unbelievable extremes”.
Sir John Major raised fears on Thursday evening that Mr Johnson could look to circumvent the terms of the Benn Law by using Privy Council privleges.
The former Tory prime minister suggested the Government could seek to bypass statute law by passing an Order of Council – an order that can be issued by ministers serving as privy councillors – to suspend the Act until after October 31 without involving the Queen.
“I should warn the Prime Minister that, if this route is taken, it will be in flagrant defiance of Parliament and utterly disrespectful to the Supreme Court,” said Sir John.
“It would be a piece of political chicanery that no-one should ever forgive or forget.”
But Mr Sharma refused to say whether such a tactic had been broached at a meeting of the political Cabinet on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to set out discussions that have occurred in the privacy of Cabinet,” he told the BBC.
“We are absolutely going to comply with the law, we are working incredibly hard to get a deal and we will be leaving on October 31.”