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  1. ITV Report

Justice Secretary 'sorry' PM branded as 'humbug' female MPs' concerns politicians' language fuelling anger

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland apologised for comments made by Boris Johnson. Credit: ITV/Peston

The Justice Secretary has said he is "sorry" that the Prime Minister branded as "humbug" concerns by some female MPs that the language of other politicians was fuelling public anger against them.

Speaking in the House of Commons last month, Labour MP for Dewsbury, Paula Sherriff, criticised Mr Johnson for his repeated use of "Surrender Act" when describing legislation designed to prevent ministers forcing through a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

She warned against using such language and recalled murdered Labour MP Jo Cox before highlighting that many MPs are subject to death threats and abuse.

But Mr Johnson labelled her remarks "humbug", which prompted an angry response in the chamber – with shouts of "shame" emerging.

Speaking on ITV's Peston, Robert Buckland said he was personally "sorry" for the Prime Minister's comments, adding he believed Mr Johnson had "misunderstood" the point Ms Sherriff was raising.

"I'm quite close to that particular issue and the issues that have affected that Member of Parliament," Mr Buckland told ITV News' Political Editor.

"I don't think he would have intended to belittle in any way in that case or other cases.

"He like all of us shares that deep concern about the way the discourse has become so rough and cheap and we owe it to everybody to get the tone of this election right."

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The South Swindon MP added that abuse aimed at Parliamentarians is a growing problem, and is "coarsening the discourse and it's coarsening it not just in Parliament, but on social media as well.

"There's no doubt in my mind that too many colleagues have really suffered at the sharp end of that and it is causing an alarming number to throw it in."

Just hours before Mr Buckland appeared on Peston, Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan announced she will not be seeking re-election due to the "abuse" she has suffered and the toll her job had taken on her family.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, former Conservative MP and current Liberal Democrat Heidi Allen announced she will not stand for re-election citing the "nastiness and intimidation" she has received.

It was not just verbal abuse, but physical threats as well, Mr Buckland said, adding he knew of some which had resulted in prosecutions.

He continued that the abuse directed at MPs was particularly problematic for women.

"I've seen for myself the effect, particularly on female colleagues, who have borne some really appalling, often sexualised language, which frankly in a lively democracy.... that crosses the line into something wholly sinister."

Also appearing on Peston was Labour MP Melanie Onn who revealed that some of her colleague were unable to campaign alone due to the threats they face.

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Not only is abuse an issue, so too is racism, former co-chari of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi told Peston.

"I think other than Brexit, what this last Parliament will be remembered for will be the deep-rooted racism in political parties.

"I think the row around anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and Islamophobia in the Conservative Party has trundled through for the last three years now.

"I sincerely hope that we open a new chapter and we do this on the first day of this election and we say it will not be about the Labour Party's anti-Semitism or the Conservatives' Islamophobia... because if that's the basis of the election, we will end up with a far more divided nation afterwards."