Yesterday evening, Boris Johnson outraged the Commons by dismissing criticisms of his inflammatory language as “humbug” as well as seeming to use Jo Cox’s memory for political gain.
Many have accused the Prime Minister of whipping up nationalist sentiment with his rhetoric, such as by comparing Muslim women wearing niqabs to “letterboxes” – the week after that article was published, Islamophobic incidents saw a 375% rise.
The complaints last night were focused on his language within Parliament, however, as he refers to a bill proposing to make a no-deal Brexit illegal as a “surrender bill”, evoking the popular right-wing narrative of opposition to Brexit being an act of betrayal or treason.
The most poignant reminder of the risks faced by public servants from far-right extremists was Labour MP Paula Sherriff’s reference to the shield commemorating Jo Cox that hangs in the House of Commons.
Jo Cox was tragically murdered by a far-right extremist just a week before the referendum in 2016, and her death is often seen as a reminder of the consequences of sowing division in politics instead of seeking consensus.
This sentiment was lost on Johnson, who belittled Sherriff’s impassioned speech, calling it “humbug”. Shockingly, the PM then went on to claim that to “get Brexit done” would be the best way to honour Cox’s memory.
Multiple MPs, including a tearful Labour MP Anna Soubry, pleaded with the PM to moderate his language, with many warning that nationalist language can seriously endanger the safety of politicians. Soubry herself has been harassed and called a “traitor” outside Parliament.
Hijacking a tragedy to support a political agenda is a new low for Boris Johnson, especially when the world is experiencing an alarming rise in far-right extremism. There is little doubt that Johnson is validating a dangerous ideology with his remarks, and the fury he provokes from MPs goes to show how grossly out of place his rhetoric is within Parliament.
By refusing to apologise or offer any kind of olive branch in the name of common decency, he makes the likelihood of a tragedy on the scale of Cox’s killing happening again ever more plausible.
For every slur thrown at a Muslim woman, for every EU migrant living in terrifying uncertainty, for every Member of Parliament sent death threats and intimidated on the street, the Prime Minister should feel partially responsible. I think we all have to ask – how does Boris Johnson sleep at night?
Written by Max Ingleby