British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday rebuffed allegations that he was inciting violence by accusing his Brexit opponents of “surrender” and “betrayal,” saying the only way to calm the simmering tensions was to stop delaying and leave the European Union.
Johnson, the Conservative party leader who has suffered a string of defeats in the House of Commons, took power two months ago with a “do-or-die” promise that Britain will leave the EU on the scheduled date of October 31 – even if there is no divorce deal to cushion the economic consequences.
With talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union showing little sign of progress, Johnson’s opponents in Parliament are determined to avoid a no-deal exit. Economists say leaving without an agreement would disrupt trade with the EU, plunge the country into recession and — according to Britain’s own government watchdog — potentially interrupt the supply of essential medicines for patients in Britain.
During raucous, ill-tempered parliamentary debates this week, Johnson said postponing the country’s departure would “betray” the people, referred to an opposition law ordering a Brexit delay as the “Surrender Act.” Challenged by MPs who said such terms were inspiring death threats against them, especially against women, Johnson brushed off concerns that his forceful language might endanger legislators as “humbug.”
Johnson is no stranger to threats. In a recording made in 1990, he agreed to provide the address of a News of the World reporter, Stuart Collier, to a friend, Darius Guppy, who wanted to arrange for the journalist to be beaten up as revenge for investigating his activities.
In an ill-tempered House of Commons session this week, MPs criticised the prime minister, saying Johnson’s language could incite violence. Many British lawmakers say they routinely receive death threats now as a result of their failure to back Brexit.
Johnson, however, said the country’s social tensions were being caused by Britain’s failure to leave the EU, more than three years after voting in a referendum to do so.
“Once you do that, then so much of the heat and the anxiety will come out of the debate,” Johnson said Friday, as he returned to the theme while visiting a hospital. “Get it done and then we will all be able to move on,” he added.
In Parliament, Johnson was repeatedly reminded that a Labour lawmaker, Jo Cox, was stabbed and shot to death a week before the 2016 Brexit referendum by a far-right attacker shouting “Death to traitors!”
On Thursday, Johnson’s sister even criticised him for “tasteless” remarks about Cox. Rachel Johnson told Sky News that his talk of “surrender” for those opposed to Brexit – which includes herself – was “highly reprehensible.”
“I think it was particularly tasteless for those who are grieving a mother, MP and friend to say the best way to honour her memory is to deliver the thing she and her family campaigned against – Brexit,” Rachel Johnson said.
“My brother is using words like ‘surrender’ and ‘capitulation’ as if the people standing in the way of the blessed will of the people, as defined by the 17.4 million votes in 2016, should be hung, drawn, quartered, tarred, and feathered,” she said. “I think that is highly reprehensible.... It serves no purpose.”
On Friday, a 36-year-old man, Michael Roby, was charged with a public order offence after a disturbance outside the office of Labour MP Jess Phillips, an outspoken critic of Johnson.
He said her staff had to be locked inside when a man kicked the door and tried to smash the windows on Thursday.
Amber Rudd, who served in Johnson’s Conservative Cabinet until she quit three weeks ago, said she was “disappointed and stunned” by Johnson’s dismissal of their concerns. She told the Evening Standard newspaper that the incendiary language used by Johnson and his aides “does incite violence.”
Johnson said that all threats to politicians were “absolutely appalling,” but defended his use of the term “Surrender Act.”
“The use of that kind of metaphor has been going on for hundreds of years,” he said.
Johnson’s controversial senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who led a campaign to leave the EU, also dismissed concerns that politicians’ heated rhetoric was polarising society, and said the government’s plan to deliver Brexit on October 31, come what may, would succeed.
“We are going to leave and we are going to win,” he said.
In another sign that requests to calm language was being ignored a senior Cabinet minister – who was not named – told The Times on Thursday that the country risked a “violent, popular uprising” if a second referendum on Brexit took place.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office said in a report Friday there was still a “significant amount” of work to do to make sure Britain has enough medical drugs if it leaves the EU on October 31 without a divorce deal.
It said additional shipping capacity chartered by the government might not be operational until the end of November, a month after the Brexit deadline. Of the more than 12,300 medicines licensed in the UK, about 7,000 arrive from or via the EU, mostly across the English Channel.
Johnson insists he wants to strike a deal, but is demanding significant changes to the withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May. That deal was rejected three times by the House of Commons.
Talks continued Friday with a meeting between UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, yet there was no news of progress.
Johnson’s political opponents have passed a law compelling the government to ask the EU for a delay to the UK’s exit if no deal has been struck by late October. Johnson is adamant he won’t do that — but also says he will comply with the law.
The former Conservative prime minister, John Major, said he feared the government would use constitutional trickery to get around the law by suspending it until after the deadline.
REFERRAL TO POLICE
In another troubling twist for Johnson, on Friday the prime minister was formally referred to the police over claims he may have been guilty of misconduct in public office.
The complaint stems from allegations that he used his former position as Mayor of London to benefit US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.
Newspaper reports last week said Johnson did not disclose “close personal links” to Arcuri, whose firm received thousands of pounds in funding from the government and travelled on official trade trips. Other reports implied the two had a very close relationship with Johnson said to be a regular visitor to her flat in London.
On one occasion, a company led by the businesswoman reportedly benefitted from a £100,000-grant from a government department, even though “ she and her companies could not have expected otherwise to receive those benefits,” according to the complaint, as her firm had relocated from the UK to the US.–
‘We’re at war,’ Trump tells US diplomats on impeachment probe
US President Donald Trump called his struggle with Democrats threatening impeachment a “war,” a video of comments that he expected to remain private showed Friday.
“We’re at war. These people are sick,” Trump says in the video obtained by Bloomberg. He was speaking at a closed-doors gathering with US diplomats in New York on Thursday and apparently filmed by one of the people attending.
The event was held in the wake of the Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment investigation into Trump’s alleged attempt to arm-twist the Ukrainian president into providing dirt on one of his main 2020 election rivals, Joe Biden.
The recording of the event showed Trump suggesting that whoever gave compromising information to the whistleblower was “close to a spy.”
Trump also refers to Biden in the clip as “dumb as a rock” – getting more laughter from the diplomats.
He also calls journalists “animals,” “scum” and “crooked.”