Four times Remainers used ‘toxic’ language

Leading Remainers have said far worse things than Boris Johnson has.

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Topics Brexit Politics UK

The House of Commons completely lost the plot last night, as Remainer MPs blasted Boris Johnson for using the word ‘surrender’, in relation to the Benn Act that aims to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Hysterical MP after hysterical MP stood up and said Johnson’s language of ‘betrayal’ and ‘surrender’ was putting their lives at risk.

But a cursory Google search, or a memory longer than the last week, reveals that many of these people have said far worse things about their political opponents. Take Labour MP Jess Phillips, who today will ask an urgent question in parliament about the PM’s ‘toxic’ language. In 2015, she said that, when the time came to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader, she would knife him ‘in the front not the back’.

Lib Dem Ed Davey also led the condemnation of Johnson’s language last night. Well, in June, he said Remainer parties should unite to ‘decapitate that blond head in Uxbridge and South Ruislip’ – a pretty violent metaphor, you might say, for an electoral pact aimed at beating Boris Johnson, who is MP there, at the next election.

Davey later apologised. But others have been less contrite about using, or being seen to endorse, violent language against their opponents. Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has long refused to recant a speech he gave in 2014, in which he repeated calls from activists to have then DWP minister Esther McVey ‘lynched’, to big laughs.

There was a lot of talk last night about the unfair portrayal of one’s opponents as ‘traitors’ (even though Johnson has never used such language). But what then should we think about this chestnut from David Lammy MP. When asked on The Andrew Marr Show if he wanted to take back a comparison he had made between the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group and the Nazis, he said that, if anything, his comments were ‘not strong enough’.

So, in sum, using the word ‘surrender’ to describe an act of parliament is apparently mad and dangerous. But talking about knifing, decapitating and lynching one’s opponents is fine. Suggesting that Remainers are enemies of democracy when they try to, er, thwart democracy is inflammatory and toxic. But saying that pro-Brexit MPs are actual fascists is, if anything, a little on the cautious side. Gotcha.

Shaming politicians, whatever their position or party, for using colourful language is ridiculous and censorious. You have to have a pretty low view of ordinary people to think that a few fighting words from MPs is enough to turn voters to political violence and murder. We should argue back, not take offence. But it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that many of the MPs saying Johnson’s language is dangerous don’t actually believe it.

How could they? Many of them have said far worse things themselves.

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Topics Brexit Politics UK
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