Johnson says tempers need to calm after Brexit furore
By Guy Faulconbridge and Elizabeth Piper
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said tempers needed to calm after a vitriolic session in parliament the day before, maintaining that only Brexit could resolve deep divisions among lawmakers and across the country.
Parliament reached boiling point on Wednesday when Johnson and his opponents engaged in hours of furious argument over Brexit, with lawmakers hurling allegations of betrayal and abuse of power across the chamber.
The anger had become so intense that the husband of a lawmaker murdered days before the 2016 EU referendum said it could encourage violence unless politicians toned down their rhetoric.
"We do need to bring people together and get this thing done," Mr Johnson told BBC TV.
"Tempers need to calm down and people need to come together because it is only by getting Brexit done that you will actually lance the boil of the current anxiety."
The ferocity of the Brexit debate has shocked allies of a country that has prided itself as a confident - and mostly tolerant - pillar of Western economic and political stability.
However, three years since Britons voted to leave the bloc, the outcome remains mired in uncertainty with supporters on both sides of the debate becoming increasingly entrenched.
Mr Johnson returned to the House of Commons on Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled that his decision to suspend parliament earlier this month was unlawful.
He challenged his opponents either to bring down the government or get out of the way to allow him to deliver Brexit, something he has vowed to do by October 31 whether or not he has agreed a withdrawal deal with the European Union.
His opponents roared "resign" and some cast him as a cheating dictator who should stand aside after the court ruling.
Mr Johnson provoked anger by repeatedly calling a law that forces him to ask the EU for a three-month Brexit delay next month unless he can strike a deal as the "Surrender Bill".
His critics say such language is often used in threats of violence or worse received by lawmakers, particularly women.
Mr Johnson defended his use of the term to supportive Conservative lawmakers on Thursday, arguing that the legislation would hurt Britain's negotiating stance with the EU.
"I think it's fair enough to call the surrender act what it is," he told the BBC.
However, he acknowledged that using such language meant opposition lawmakers might not support any Brexit deal he struck with the EU, making it almost impossible to get it through parliament, where he has no majority.
Many opposition lawmakers were still furious over his response on Wednesday to a question about Jo Cox, a 41-year-old parliamentarian and mother of two young children from the opposition Labour Party who was murdered on June 16, 2016 by a loner obsessed with Nazis and extreme right-wing ideology.
When one female Labour lawmaker said she had had threats from people echoing the prime minister's rhetoric, Mr Johnson replied: "I have never heard so much humbug in my life"
Cox's husband Brendan said he was shocked by the inflammatory language and both sides should ponder the impact of the words they used. Many lawmakers have received death threats and another far-right extremist was jailed in May for planning to murder a female lawmaker with a sword.
"To descend into this bear pit of polarization is dangerous for our country," Mr Cox told the BBC. "It creates an atmosphere where violence and attacks are more likely."
Mr Johnson said the growing threat to lawmakers had to be addressed but declined to apologise for his words and disputed suggestions his language was stoking feelings.
"What I worry about is if we don’t get Brexit done, then people will feel very badly let down," he said.
PM'S SISTER UNIMPRESSED
Some on both sides of the debate are now using the politics of contrived outrage to argue their point. Mr Johnson says parliament is betraying the will of the people over Brexit, while opponents cast him a dictator who has ridden roughshod over democracy to take the United Kingdom to the brink of ruin.
Parliamentary speaker John Bercow told lawmakers to stop treating each other as enemies, saying the atmosphere in the House of Commons was the worst he had known since he was elected 22 years ago.
It was not just politicians who were angry. Johnson's sister Rachel described her brother's words as a "particularly tasteless" way to refer to the memory of a murdered lawmaker.
"Words like collaborationist, traitor, betrayal, my brother using words like surrender, capitulation, as if the people who are standing in the way of the blessed will of the people as defined by 17.4 million votes in 2016 should be hung, drawn, quartered, tarred and feathered," she told Sky News.
"I think that it highly reprehensible language to use."
In 2016, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, voted to remain.
Nicholas Soames, grandson of Britain's World War Two leader Winston Churchill, said the atmosphere in parliament was the most poisonous he could remember in 37 years. "I despair, to be frank," he said