Islington councillors of both Labour and Green parties last night united in condemnation of Boris Johnson’s now-notorious ‘humbug’ comments in response to pleas for the moderation of language in Parliament.
Islington council leader Richard Watts, who said he had been a colleague and friend of murdered MP Jo Cox and her husband, was particularly vehement in his criticism of the Prime Minister, calling Johnson’s invocation of her name “utterly bloody disgraceful”.
The meeting saw councillors speaking up in fear for their safety in the current political climate, as the Town Hall committed to a formal motion opposing a no-deal Brexit “in the strongest terms”.
Cllr Watts (Lab, Tollington) said: “I think the language we are seeing from Boris Johnson is deliberately inflaming community tension in order that they can harvest votes to get them out of the mess they are in at the moment, I think is little short of disgraceful.
“To use Jo Cox to argue for government policy is utterly bloody disgraceful. We know very well what happens when far right rhetoric ramps up the fears of vulnerable people.
“That’s what happened when Darren Osborne drove a van into Muslim worshippers in our very own borough, a man who was radicalised by online rhetoric, prompting him to commit terrorist murder.
“Real people are victims of this, and this borough will stand up for a united, cohesive community, whatever view you take on Brexit or the future of our country, we stand together and against the hatred that Boris Johnson is trying to peddle.”
Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East) added: “I recently looked around at a family gathering and realised this was the first generation in five where people did not have to move from one country to another because of fascism in one form or another.
“We felt safe, but I no longer feel that safety. Ethnonationalism is being mobilised against us and against everybody in pursuit of a no-deal Brexit, and to keep this utterly disgraceful government in power.”
Boris Johnson has to date refused to apologise for his comments, having sent a junior minister in his place to a debate on language in the House of Commons.
MPs have since launched a cross-party initiative, an award for civility in politics, in an attempt to champion those who avoid inflammatory rhetoric.
Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) said: “I think it’s very important at this time that we try to work together. Watching Parliament, I was left physically shaking.
“Prime Minister Johnson’s refusal to apologise for breaking the law when he shut down Parliament, and his response of ‘humbug’ to the emotional pleas of women MPs to stop using inflammatory language were utterly shocking.
“To finish off with a casual reference to the terrible death of Jo Cox was disgraceful. It is frankly really terrifying what is happening to our country.”
Labour MPs voted down an attempted amendment to the motion opposing a no-deal Brexit by Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East), with disagreement focusing on the order in which to hold a general election and second referendum.
The Green councillor argued that holding a general election ahead of a referendum risked “deepening divisions in the community”, and that once no-deal had been dismissed as an outcome and a ‘People’s Vote’ held, that a general election could then take place.
Labour councillors dismissed these points, with the Islington council leader stating that he “did not trust any referendum that took place under this government”.
Cllr Watts said: “The very nature of the Brexit resilience group’s name shows you the danger our community faces as a result of the reckless political rhetoric bandied around by senior government figures.
“A lot of the stuff our residents need to get by on a daily basis, from food and medicine to fuel, comes through Channel ports, and if thy are blockd up, this is going to have significant consequences for the quality of life of our residents. There is nothing that Islington Council can do to unblock Dover.”