Boisterous Boris branded a disgrace over comments on MPs’ safety
Some of the worst moments from one of angriest days in British parliament in memory
Seldom has the air in the House of Commons been so thick with poison as it was during Boris Johnson’s statement on Wednesday night.
Even the UK’s European commissioner said the prime minister’s outbursts were “crass and dangerous”.
Here is a selection of stand-out exchanges from an historically nasty day in parliament:
Some MPs and commentators wondered whether the prime minister would display contrition after the UK supreme court unanimously found his decision to suspend parliament unlawful. Far from it.
Johnson refused to apologise for providing unlawful advice to Queen Elizabeth and instead went on the attack, accusing opposition MPs of “running to the courts” in an attempt to block Brexit.
Before Johnson told MPs that he thought the decision from the 11 judges of the highest court in the land was “wrong”, his attorney general, who advised on the prorogation, said: “If every time I lost a case I was called upon to resign, I would probably never had a practice.”
Geoffrey Cox later went full Monty Python when he boomed, to moans of approval from the government benches, that the opposition were cowards and that parliament was dead. “This parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches... this parliament is a disgrace.”
One could say “disgrace” was the word of the day. Labour MP Barry Sheerman said the attorney general had no shame.
“The fact that this government cynically manipulated the prorogation to shut down this house so that it couldn’t work as a democratic assembly – he knows that that is the truth and to come here with his barrister’s bluster to obfuscate the truth; for a man like this, for a party like this and a leader like this prime minster to talk about morals and morality is a disgrace!”
Johnson was again branded a disgrace for saying the best way to honour the memory of Remain-supporting MP Jo Cox, murdered by a right-wing extremist shortly before the 2016 referendum, was “to get Brexit done”. Cox’s husband Brendan said the comment made him feel sick.
Several female opposition MPs accused the prime minister of putting them in danger by using provocative language. Johnson dismissed the criticism and referred repeatedly to a law aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit as a “surrender act”.
The prime minister caused uproar when he said an MP’s concerns over death threats were “humbug”.
Labour’s Paula Sheriff urged Johnson to avoid using inflammatory language.
“With many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day, let me tell the prime minister – they often quote his words. Surrender act. Betrayal. Traitor. And I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language – and it has to come from the prime minister first. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself,” she said.
Johnson replied: “I have to say Mr Speaker, I’ve never heard so much humbug in my life.”
Johnson’s blithe dismissal of those comments was greeted by approval from his own benches and fury from the opposition. Labour’s Peter Kyle told the prime minister: “When you live behind a wall of armed police officers you can be as irresponsible as you like with your language because you will never have to live with the consequences”.
Johnson told him that MPs should get Brexit done if they want to feel safe. “Believe me the best way to ensure that every parliamentarian is properly safe and we dial down the current anxiety in this country is to get Brexit done,” he said.
The European Commission, responding to questions about the sharp tone of Wednesday’s debate, warned of the importance of “respect” in politicians’ dealings with one another.
In oblique but clear criticism of the British prime minister’s rhetoric , a spokeswoman told journalists at the midday briefing in Brussels that “respect is” a key word.
“It is the responsibility of each and every politician to uphold our values. History has shown what happens when they are not upheld.”
She refused to be drawn on Johnson’s claim in the Commons that dialogue was progressing and that despite earlier EU insistence that the withdrawal agreement could not be reopened, that the EU was now engaged in “negotiations” on its content.
“Talks” were ongoing, the spokeswoman said, on Thursday and Friday, when EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will again meet Tanaiste Simon Coveney and the UK’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
A British source described as “semantics” the distinction still being maintained by the European Commission between exploratory talks and negotiations. *If the British prime minister described the talks as negotiations, then that’s what they are, “ he said.
Barnier, speaking to MEPs’ Brexit Steering Group, had earlier repeated that Britain has yet to provide “legal and operational” proposals that could break the Brexit impasse.