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Inflammatory language can have dangerous consequences

Any faint hope that a chastened Boris Johnson would return to the unsuspended House of Commons full of contrition for his unlawful conduct was swiftly dashed this week.

Not only was he unrepentant he was also in combative form, railing at his opponents and ratcheting up the already febrile atmosphere at Westminster.

It has to be said that emotions and tempers were running high on Wednesday after parliament resumed following the damning ruling by the Supreme Court.

There is clearly deep-seated anger and frustration among members on all sides but this can be no excuse for the disgraceful comments by the prime minister in relation to the murdered MP Jo Cox.

His 'humbug' response to a Labour member who urged him not to use inflammatory and offensive language given the death threats aimed at MPs, caused widespread outrage.

He compounded this dismay by suggesting that the best way to honour the memory of Ms Cox, an ardent Remainer, was to deliver Brexit.

Mr Johnson's comments have been roundly condemned with his sister, Rachel Johnson, saying it was 'particularly tasteless' to say the best way to honour her memory is to deliver the thing she and her family campaigned against.

As we know, Jo Cox was murdered by a far right fanatic consumed with hatred, who shouted 'Britain first' as he carried out his shocking attack.

There is no doubt that Brexit has had a profoundly negative impact on political discourse.

Britain is sharply divided and feelings are running high which makes it even more imperative that political leaders ensure they do not inflame tensions by the language they use.

In Northern Ireland we know only too well that intemperate and dangerous words have the power to cause immense harm and have far-reaching consequences.

A prime minister should not need to be told this but the strategy of this government seems to be to whip up fears, to goad and bait opponents and ride roughshod over long held conventions.

Many MPs do not trust Mr Johnson and with good reason but he holds an important office which comes with it certain responsibilities, not least providing an example of respect and civility.

Parliamentarians of all shades of opinion should be mindful of the message that is being conveyed to a watching public by the toxic atmosphere at Westminster.

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