Rachel Johnson has called the language her brother used at the dispatch box in the House of Commons “tasteless”.
Appearing on The Pledge to be aired on Sky News tonight, Ms Johnson, who has been a vocal opponent of her brother Boris Johnson, the prime minister, over Britain leaving the EU says that he was wrong to suggest the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox was to deliver Brexit.
The former candidate for The Independent Group for Change, was sharing her views on the changes in political language, after a fiery night in the Commons when parliament resumed on Wednesday.
Ms Johnson said: “A lot of this language was initiated in the tabloids, because we had [headlines] like ‘crush the saboteurs’, we had the judiciary and remain MPs being ‘enemies of the people’, words like collaborationist, betrayal.
“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.
“I think that is highly reprehensible.
“I hope today in the Commons there will be some sort of deal on all sides that this sort of thing is utterly dialled down.
“It serves no purpose.”
On Mr Johnson’s reference to Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016, she said: “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.
“It was a very tasteless way of referring to the memory of a murdered MP, who was murdered by someone who said ‘Britain first’, obviously of the far right tendency, which is being whipped up by this sort of language.”
Ms Cox’s widower said he felt sick after Mr Johnson dismissed the fears of Labour MPs over the language used against them in death threats.
In the Commons on Wednesday evening, Labour MP Paula Sheriff raised Mrs Cox’s death as she told Mr Johnson: “We should not resort to using offensive, dangerous or inflammatory language for legislation that we do not like.
“We stand here under the shield of our departed friend, with many of us subject to death threats and abuse every single day.
“And let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words: surrender act, betrayal, traitor.
“I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language and it has to come from the prime minister first.”
Prompting a furious reaction from Labour MPs, Mr Johnson replied: “I’ve never heard such humbug in all my life.”
After the incident, Brendan Cox tweeted: “Feel a bit sick at Jo’s name being used in this way. 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.”
So far, Downing Street has refused to issue an apology.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The PM obviously made the broader point last night that he believes we need to get the issue of Brexit resolved because it was causing anxiety and ill-feeling in the country.”
The spokesman added: “The PM is very clear that whatever their views no MPs or anyone else in public life should face threats or intimidation. It’s completely unacceptable.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips shared a death threat she had been sent on Twitter, which included words said by Mr Johnson.
In the Commons today, Ms Phillips asked an urgent question about the language used by Mr Johnson.
She said: “The use of language yesterday and over the past few weeks such as the surrender bill, such as invoking the war, such as betrayal and treachery, it has clearly been tested, and work-shopped and worked up and entirely designed to inflame hatred and division.
“I get it, it works, it is working.”
She continued: “It is not sincere, it is totally planned, it is completely and utterly a strategy designed by somebody to harm and cause hatred in our country.
“When I hear of my friend Jo Cox’s murder and the way that it has made me and my colleagues feel, and feel scared, described as humbug, I actually don’t feel anger towards the Prime Minister, I feel pity for those of you who have to toe his line.
“The people opposite me know how appalling it was to describe the murder of my friend as mere humbug.
“I want to ask the Prime Minister to apologise and to tell him that the bravest, strongest thing to say is sorry – it will make him look good, it will not upset the people who want Brexit in this country if he acts for once like a statesman.”
Mr Johnson is not appearing in the House of Commons today, which Jeremy Corbyn said showed a lack of respect. Kevin Foster, a junior minister, is instead answering questions.
Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader, said: “To dismiss concerns from honourable members about the death threats they receive, and to dismiss concerns that the language used by the Prime Minister is being repeated in those death threats is reprehensible.”
He also warned that all sides of the House had a responsibility “not to descend into personal abuse”.
Ms Johnson’s criticism comes just weeks after the prime minister’s brother Jo quit his cabinet over the approach to a no deal Brexit.
At the beginning of this month, Jo Johnson said: “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest – it’s an unresolvable tension.”
Watch The Pledge tonight on Sky News at 9pm or via Sky’s Catch Up service or the Sky News app on Sky Q.
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