Anger at MPs not surprising says PMs adviser

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Media captionLabour MP Karl Turner confronts PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings

It is “not surprising” there is anger directed at MPs over Brexit, the PM’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, has said.

The former Vote Leave chief said the only way the issue of abuse will be solved is if MPs “respect” the result of the EU referendum.

Mr Cummings’ remarks came after Boris Johnson defended language he used in Parliament amid criticism from MPs.

The Parliamentary tensions have led 120 archbishops and bishops to warn against “further entrenching our divisions”.

The intervention followed an ill-tempered debate on Wednesday as MPs returned to Parliament after the Supreme Court ruled the suspension of Parliament was unlawful.

The prime minister was criticised by a number of MPs for – among other remarks – describing one Labour MP’s safety concerns as “humbug” and repeatedly referring to legislation aimed at blocking no-deal as “the surrender bill”.

On Thursday, MPs spoke in the Commons of the threats they had faced, with Tory MP Caroline Noakes describing how someone called her a “traitor who deserved to be shot” on a walkabout in her constituency.

Speaking at a book launch that evening, Mr Cummings said MPs had spent three years “swerving all over the shop” following the referendum and it was “not surprising some people are angry about it”.

He said both Leave and Remain campaigners had received “serious threats” of violence, which he said should be taken seriously.

But he added: “If you are a bunch of politicians and say that we swear we are going to respect the result of a democratic vote, and then after you lose you say, ‘we don’t want to respect that vote’, what do you expect to happen?

“In the end, the situation can only be resolved by Parliament honouring its promise to respect the result,” he said, echoing sentiments expressed by the prime minister in the Commons on Wednesday.

‘We are going to win’

Mr Cummings also denied that Downing Street was under pressure following the Supreme Court ruling, a series of Parliamentary defeats and the backlash against Mr Johnson’s comments.

“This is a walk in the park compared to the referendum. We are enjoying this, we are going to leave and we are going to win,” he said.

BBC political correspondent Helen Catt said his comments were unlikely to smooth tensions in Parliament, where MPs have expressed concern that Downing Street could seek to bypass legislation – passed earlier this month – to block a no-deal Brexit.

The Benn bill – which Mr Johnson has been referring to as the “surrender act” – says the prime minister will have to ask the EU for an extension to the 31 October Brexit deadline if he is unable to pass a deal in Parliament, or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit, by 19 October.

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Media captionGina Miller: “MPs should be ashamed of themselves”

Former prime minister Sir John Major – who on Thursday accused Mr Johnson of “wilfully” destroying the prospects of a cross-party agreement on Brexit – expressed concern that the government might sidestep the law by suspending the act until after 31 October.

Sir John said he thought the government might be planning to do this by passing an Order of Council, which can be approved by Privy Councillors – government ministers – and has the force of law.

On Thursday night, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly refused to rule the idea out.

He told BBC Question Time: “I’m not going to discuss how we’re going to progress through this…. I’m not going to talk through how the government intends to discharge its business, knowing full well that there are a whole load of people who will try and distort every procedure that we have in British politics to try and prevent that.”

However, former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he was confident any attempt to circumvent the act would fail.

Downing Street has consistently said the government will obey the law, but Mr Johnson has also insisted he will not seek a delay to Brexit, which the act mandates.

‘Tempers need to come down’

Meanwhile, the College of Bishops called on politicians to “speak to others with respect”, adding that the result of the EU referendum “should be honoured”.

“It is easy to descend into division and abuse – climbing out and finding unity again takes far longer,” the college said in a statement.

“Further entrenching our divisions, whether from uncertainty or from partisanship, is not worthy of our country nor the leadership we now need.”

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Media captionJohnson “deplores threats” against MPs but doesn’t apologise for his use of language

Earlier on Thursday, MPs debated an urgent question over the use of language during Wednesday’s stormy debate, with several members calling on the prime minister to apologise.

Elsewhere, a man was arrested for allegedly verbally abusing staff at Labour MP Jess Phillips’ constituency office in Birmingham.

In interviews with the BBC, Mr Johnson acknowledged that “tempers need to come down” in Parliament.

But defending his use of the word “surrender”, the prime minister added: “I do think in the House of Commons it is important I should be able to talk about the surrender bill, the surrender act, in the way that I did.”

What is the Benn bill?

When Mr Johnson talks about the “surrender bill”, he is referring to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act, also known as the Benn bill.

The act – which became law earlier this month – stipulates the prime minister will have until 19 October to either pass a deal in Parliament or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit.

Once this deadline has passed, he will have to request an extension to the UK’s departure date to 31 January 2020 from the EU.

If the EU responds by proposing a different date, the PM will have two days to accept that proposal. But during this two-day period, MPs – not the government – will have the opportunity to reject the EU’s date.

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