MPs warn Boris Johnson his rhetoric imperils Brexit deal hopes
Boris Johnson has been warned by MPs that his intemperate language in the Commons on Wednesday night has made it much less likely that he would be able to get any Brexit deal through parliament next month.
Opposition politicians rounded on the prime minister on Thursday for “inciting hatred against MPs” in his performance at the despatch box the previous evening.
Lisa Nandy, one of the Labour MPs who has been minded to support a cross-party Brexit deal, attacked Mr Johnson for using “horrendous, divisive language”.
She said: “For those of us who do want to work cross-party to achieve a deal, this is making it much, much more difficult.”
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP, said that without a return to more “temperate language” he feared that the events in the chamber on Wednesday night had imperilled the chances of securing a Brexit deal.
“The strategy I want to see is reflective of the fact that this is a minority government. We don’t have the numbers. If we want to get a Brexit deal we need to reach across the aisle,” he said.
If Mr Johnson were to secure a Brexit deal with Brussels, he would need about 20 Labour MPs to defy the party whip and support him in a meaningful vote. But many Labour MPs are now likely to find this far more difficult to do.
Downing Street insisted that the prime minister was still determined to try to get a pact next month.
Asked whether Mr Johnson had now abandoned getting a deal, a Number 10 spokesman said: “Absolutely not. The PM will now pursue with energy the strategy of trying to secure a deal . . . Progress has been made but obstacles remain.”
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, condemned the “toxic” atmosphere in the Commons, telling MPs: “I think there is a widespread sense across the House and beyond that yesterday the House did itself no credit,” adding: “There was an atmosphere in the chamber worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the House.”
However, Number 10 made no apology for Mr Johnson’s words in a stormy Commons debate in which he repeatedly described anti-no deal legislation passed by opposition MPs as a “surrender act”.
In a sometimes ugly debate, Labour’s Paula Sherriff raised the murder in 2016 of Jo Cox, a Remain-supporting MP, by a neo-Nazi and asked Mr Johnson to stop using “dangerous” language such as “Surrender Act” to describe legislation passed recently to stop a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson replied to Labour protests: “I never heard such humbug in all my life.” He caused further anger when he added: “The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and, indeed the best way to bring the country together, would be to get Brexit done.”
Opposition MPs raised concerns on Thursday that ministers are using an unusual formula when asked whether they would abide by the Benn Act — anti-no deal legislation that requires Mr Johnson to seek an immediate Article 50 extension if he cannot get a deal at European Council.
Asked to outline how the government would comply with the law, James Duddridge, a Brexit minister, said: “We don’t want an extension but we will obey the law as it stands at that time.”
He added. “The bill is not perfect . . . the government believes (it) does have deficiencies and its effect is unclear.”