British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a backlash from furious lawmakers on Thursday over his use of confrontational language in Parliament about opponents of his Brexit plan, as the Speaker of the House of Commons warned that the country’s political culture had turned “toxic.”
In a raucous and bad-tempered debate on Wednesday, Johnson characterized an opposition law ordering a Brexit delay as a “surrender act” and a “humiliation bill” and brushed off concerns that his language might endanger legislators as “humbug.”
Some in Parliament warned he should be more cautious given the 2016 killing of legislator Jo Cox. The Labour lawmaker was murdered a week before Britain’s European Union membership referendum by a far-right attacker shouting “death to traitors.”
Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan tweeted that “we all need to remind ourselves of the effect of everything we say on those watching us.”
Johnson was criticized by members of several parties and by Cox’s widower.
Tempers have been inflamed in Parliament as the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline gets closer.
As the session resumed Thursday, Commons Speaker John Bercow urged moderation. “There was an atmosphere in the chamber worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the House,” Bercow said. “The culture was toxic.”
Bercow implored members of Parliament to “treat each other as opponents, not as enemies.”
Johnson is in a showdown with Parliament over his plan to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled deadline, even if there is no divorce deal to smooth the way.
Johnson says he wants to strike an agreement with the bloc, but the EU says it is still waiting for useful proposals to come from Britain to unblock stalled negotiations.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Thursday that he is “still ready to work on any new legal and operational proposal” from Johnson, but indicated insufficient progress had been achieved in the past few weeks.
“We are still waiting,” he said.
The EU already had a deal with the U.K. on departure terms, but it was rejected in the British Parliament. Johnson now wants to drastically renegotiate the agreement or leave without a deal on Oct. 31.