‘Surrender act’: Johnson ignores calls to restrain his language

Former minister David Gauke says No 10 should not ape Donald Trump’s tactics and language

Boris Johnson and his cabinet ministers repeatedly ignored warnings that their use of language could incite violence, as they deployed the phrase “surrender act” as much as possible on the first day of Conservative party conference to describe the law blocking a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson was joined by formerly moderate Conservative cabinet ministers, Matt Hancock and Nicky Morgan, in defending the language of war, despite pleas by Labour and former Tory MPs to stop suggesting those against Brexit are guilty of treachery or betrayal.

The prime minister repeated it more than a dozen times in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, while claiming he was a “model of restraint” in his use of language.

As he doubled down on his aggressive strategy, David Gauke, the former justice secretary, called on No 10 to stop using the tactics and language of Donald Trump.

The former justice secretary, who had the whip withdrawn by Boris Johnson, responded with dismay to an anonymous briefing from someone in Downing Street that he and others had help from European Union countries in drafting the Benn Act to block a no-deal exit on 31 October.

In an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Gauke said: “It’s not true, and I think here is a very good example of a No 10 briefing, using the word ‘collusion’ – and that’s a very potent word in itself – providing no evidence that there was anything like help with the drafting from foreign countries.

(August 24, 2019)  The story breaks

The Observer breaks the story that Boris Johnson has sought legal advice on closing parliament for five weeks 

(August 27, 2019) Leaks spread

Other media organisations begin to receive leaks that Johnson will make a statement on prorogation

(August 28, 2019) Visit to Balmoral

Three privy counsellors, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, travel to Balmoral to tell the Queen of the prorogation plan. Cabinet ministers are informed by conference call

(August 31, 2019) Protests and protestations

Tens of thousands protest against prorogation. Cross-party group of MPs steps up preparation for blocking no deal when parliament makes a brief return

(September 3, 2019) Parliament returns

Parliament returns and the prime minister loses six votes in six days. MPs vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and refuse Johnson's attempts to force them into a general election.

(September 6, 2019)  Gina Miller case fails

Legal campaigner Gina Miller vows to continue her “fight for democracy” after the high court dismissed her claim that the prime minister acted unlawfully in giving advice to the Queen to suspend parliament at a time of momentous political upheaval.

(September 9, 2019) Parliament dissolved

Parliament is dissolved amid chaotic scenes as some MPs hold up signs saying they have been silenced, try to prevent Speaker John Bercow leaving the chamber, and  sing the Red Flag.

(September 11, 2019)  Scottish court ruling

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(September 17, 2019)  Supreme court hearing

The Supreme court begins three-day hearing to join together all the appeals and legal challenges to the prorogation.

(September 24, 2019) Supreme court finds prorogation was unlawful

The judges unanimously decided that prorogation was justiciable, and it was in the power of the court to rule on it. They additionally found that the prorogation was unlawful, as it had the effect of preventing parliament from being able to carry out its constitutional functions. The court found that the prime minister’s advice to the Queen was unlawful, void and of no effect. Their unanimous judgement was that parliament had not been prorogued.

(September 25, 2019) 

Parliament goes back to work.

“It’s not true, but even if it were true the use of language of that sort is completely disproportionate, completely over the top, and feeds into this narrative that anyone who doesn’t agree with No 10’s position is somehow unpatriotic or betraying the country, or an enemy, or wanting the country to surrender.”

He added: “I am worried about the use of language at the moment. It is incredibly divisive, it is designed to stoke resentment, provoke anger, to nurse grievances, and it is feeding into a toxic atmosphere, not just in parliament but I think more widely.”

Gauke, who has said he would like to return as a Conservative MP, also accused Johnson of acting like Trump.

“I think the Conservative party should aim higher than the standards of Donald Trump,” he said.

Writing in the Guardian that Johnson needed to produce his Brexit plan, the former cabinet minister Justine Greening also raised concerns over the tone of his language. She wrote: “Boris Johnson is in charge. Failure will be at his door, no one else’s. Offensive and incendiary language intended to distract parliament and Britain won’t distract from the reality that he and his government have produced no detailed plan whatsoever.”

The former home secretary Amber Rudd said Johnson’s words had been contributing to a “more aggressive approach” and accused him of using language that could incite violence. She also said No 10 appeared to be trying to “mobilise anger”.

Johnson’s use of the phrase “surrender act” to refer to the Benn Act has been repeatedly criticised by Labour MPs, who said they were receiving more death threats and referenced the murder of Jo Cox by a rightwing extremist. The prime minister provoked outrage by saying this was “humbug”.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Johnson has claimed he was just talking about criticism of the term “surrender act” and doubled down on its usage, arguing the language was proportionate.

Apart from Gauke, few of the 21 MPs who had the whip removed were present at the Conservative conference, which has a slogan of “Get Brexit Done”. Rory Stewart, the former leadership candidate, cancelled an event and suggested he could start his own En Marche! style political movement.

It was left to Eurosceptic hardliners in the cabinet to dominate the main conference stage. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, accused MPs of holding the public “in contempt” and also described the Brexit party leader as in “many ways quite admirable”.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, also warned his former Tory colleagues that “history would never forgive you” if they voted to put Jeremy Corbyn even temporarily in Downing Street by backing a no-confidence motion in the prime minister. He told the conference floor: “There are some things even bigger than Brexit, and keeping that lot out of Downing Street is one of them.”

Later, Morgan, who defended the use of the term “surrender act”, addressed a One Nation rally on Sunday night, urging moderates to stay in the party “and don’t go anywhere over the next few weeks, months, years and beyond”.


Rowena Mason and Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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