Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.21 26 Sep 2019


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The House of Commons speaker John Bercow has described the atmosphere in the House of Commons yesterday as "toxic".

MPs returned to Westminster yesterday after the prorogation of parliament was ruled unlawful.

There were furious scenes on both sides of the chamber as the opposing parties took each other to task over Brexit and the controversial suspension of parliament.

Opening today's session, John Bercow said he hadn't seen scenes like yesterday in his two-decade career in parliament.

He told MPs: "I think there is a widespread sense across the House, and beyond, that yesterday the House did itself no credit.

"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 were uttered. The culture was toxic."

He said all he could do was to ask MPs to do was "to lower the decibel level and try to treat each other as opponents, not as enemies".

'Violent' language

Boris Johnson was defiant as he returned to Westminster a day after the Supreme Court ruled his prorogation of parliament was unlawful.

He told MPs he felt the court decision was wrong, and criticised the opposition over their approach to Brexit and the next general election.

Johnson In this handout photo provided by the House of Commons, Britain's General Attorney Geoffrey Cox speaks in Parliament in London, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. An unrepentant Prime Minister Boris Johnson brushed off cries of “Resign!” and dared the political opposition to try to topple him Wednesday at a raucous session of Parliament, a day after Britain’s highest court ruled he acted illegally in suspending the body ahead of the Brexit deadline. (Jessica Taylor/House of Commons via AP)

The prime minister himself faced a barrage of criticism from opposition parties, as well as calls to resign over the court's historic ruling.

During frequently loud and angry scenes in the chamber last night, there were a number of references to murdered MP Jo Cox.

The Labour MP and Remain supporter was killed a week before the Brexit referendum in 2016 by far-right extremist Thomas Mair.

In the House of Commons last night, opposition MPs urged the British prime minister to stop using terms like "surrender act" when talking about a law designed to block a no-deal Brexit.

Labour's Alison McGovern said Mr Johnson's language was "violent", suggesting: "Those of us who constantly remember our friend Jo Cox need our political culture to change now. It is getting toxic."

Her colleague Tracy Brabin, meanwhile, called on the prime minister to "moderate his language so that we all feel secure when we are going about our jobs".

Mr Johnson responded by stating: "What I will say is that the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox, and indeed to bring this country together, would be, I think, to get Brexit done."

Labour's Paula Sherriff also referenced Jo Cox during her plea for all MPs to "moderate our language" - suggesting Mr Johnson should be "absolutely ashamed of himself".

Mr Johnson responded by claiming he had "never heard such humbug in all my life".

Defending his approach, he argued: "The best way to ensure that every parliamentarian is properly safe and to dial down the current anxiety in this country is to get Brexit done."

Reaction

Following the exchanges, Jo Cox's husband Brendan said he was a "bit sick at Jo’s name being used in this way".

He added: "Just to reiterate this is about the role we all play. Just as ‘surrender’ & ‘betrayal’ is inflammatory language, so is ‘coup’ and ‘fascist’. Let’s all play our part in dialing it down."

Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson described Mr Johnson's comments as a "total disgrace".

She argued: "He has demeaned the office of Prime Minister and he should apologise for them immediately."

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Swinson also said she had reported to the police a threat against her child.

She suggested: "That was dismissed as humbug. This is a disgraceful state of affairs, and we must be able to find a way to conduct ourselves better."

Meanwhile, the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested Mr Johnson was "not fit" to speak Jo Cox's name.

Conservative Secretary of State Nicky Morgan also expressed concerns about Mr Johnson's approach during the furious debates yesterday:

Elsewhere, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of being "deeply irresponsible, stoking division, using dangerous, inflammatory language, [and] fanning the flames of hatred".

Main image: John Bercow in the House of Commons. Picture by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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