Boris Johnson has been widely condemned for telling MPs they should honour the memory of murdered parliamentarian Jo Cox by delivering Brexit.
There was uproar in the Commons on Wednesday as the Prime Minister repeatedly berated MPs, rejected calls to temper his language and said the best way to honour Mrs Cox – an ardent Remainer – was to “get Brexit done”.
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nicky Morgan appeared to acknowledge concerns about Mr Johnson’s use of language, particularly in the context of threats of violence against politicians.
“But at a time of strong feelings we all need to remind ourselves of the effect of everything we say on those watching us,” she tweeted.
But Tory chairman James Cleverly defended the Prime Minister and said the “deeply uncomfortable” atmosphere in politics was unlikely to be resolved until Brexit was delivered.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that opposition parties preferred to “continue the circular argument around Brexit” rather than put it to bed.
“It is creating a highly-charged and uncomfortable atmosphere.
“The Conservative Government and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, are trying to resolve this but the Opposition parties are refusing to do so.
“This can be de-escalated, the tempers can be taken out of this. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be a balance on both sides.
“At the moment, I don’t feel that opposition parties are genuine about trying to resolve this issue. It seems they would much prefer to continue the circular argument around Brexit rather than work together for a resolution and get it off the agenda.”
Jeremy Corbyn will convene the latest meeting of opposition leaders in Parliament on Thursday to consider their next moves.
Labour’s Tracey Brabin, who succeeded Mrs Cox as MP for Batley and Spen following her 2016 murder, said Mr Johnson needed to remember “his words have consequences”.
“He just proved that he has no emotional intelligence because then to say that the best thing we can do to remember Jo is ‘to get Brexit done’ when Jo was a passionate Remainer – only the day before her tragic murder she was on the Thames with her family campaigning to stay in the EU – it just seemed extraordinary,” Ms Brabin told BBC’s Radio 5.
Mr Johnson had dismissed as “humbug” Labour MP Paula Sherriff’s claim in the Commons that like Mrs Cox – who was killed by a man with far-right sympathies just days before the 2016 referendum – many MPs faced death threats from people using the same sort of language as the Prime Minister.
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said all people “had a responsibility to be mild in our language when we’re speaking in this House or outside”.
Mr Corbyn said the PM’s language “was indistinguishable from the far right”, while his Liberal Democrats counterpart Jo Swinson said Mr Johnson’s comments were “a disgrace”.
“He heard the pleas of MPs, many of whom who have faced death threats, to moderate his language and dismissed their concerns with the same callous bluster that has become his trademark,” Ms Swinson said.
Former cabinet minister Amber Rudd – who quit the Government and the Tory Party over Mr Johnson’s approach to Brexit – told ITV’s Peston programme the premier’s remarks were “dishonest and dangerous”.
Ms Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, said he felt “a bit sick” at the way her name was being used.
“The best way to honour Jo is for all of us (no matter our views) to stand up for what we believe in, passionately and with determination. But never to demonise the other side and always hold onto what we have in common,” he tweeted.
Despite Mr Johnson’s attacks, opposition parties again made clear they would not agree to an election until they were sure the threat of a no-deal Brexit on October 31 was off the table.
Downing Street said if opposition MPs did not take up the Prime Minister’s offer to table a no-confidence motion, the Government would take it as a mandate to press on with Brexit.
Mr Johnson was forced back to Westminster, cutting short his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, after the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday his five-week suspension of Parliament was illegal.
The Government will, however, ask MPs on Thursday to agree to a three-day break for the Commons next week while the Tories stage their annual party conference in Manchester.
But amid the angry mood at Westminster, the opposition parties appear unlikely to agree, meaning Mr Johnson could be forced to rearrange his keynote speech due to be held on the final day on Wednesday.