Jo Cox Foundation's plea for protection for MPs after politicians for Dewsbury and Batley and Spen reveal rise in abuse

Jo Cox
Jo Cox

Politicians are being urged to sign up to an anti-abuse charter amidst a row which saw MPs for Dewsbury and Batley and Spen tackle  the Prime Minister over his “dangerous” language.

The Jo Cox Foundation - set up in tribute to the former Batley and Spen MP who was murdered in Birstall - is asking MPs to add their names to a standard of conduct to help protect election candidates and agree a responsible framework for legitimate public debate.

“The tone of political discourse over the last week has demonstrated how urgently we need to return to the values of compassion, respect and kindness that Jo so believed in,” said Catherine Anderson, CEO of The Jo Cox Foundation.

“In these testing times, it is vital that we all come together, united by shared values, and build on Jo’s poignant words: ‘We are far more united and have more in common than that which divides us’.”

The news follows stormy scenes in Parliament last week when MP for Dewsbury Paula Sherriff urged Boris Johnson to be careful about the words he uses.

Pointing to a plaque in the chamber, commemorating Mrs Cox, Ms Sherriff said: “We should not resort to using offensive, dangerous or inflammatory language for legislation that we do not like, and we stand here under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day.”

Current MP for Batley and Spen Tracy Brabin also challenged the Prime Minister, urging him to moderate his language.

Responding to Ms Sherriff’s concerns, Mr Johnson said: “I have to say, Mr Speaker, I’ve never heard such humbug in all my life.”

He further angered many MPs by suggesting that the best way to honour Mrs Cox - an ardent Remainer - was to “get Brexit done”.

Both Ms Brabin and Ms Sherriff have spoken of receiving abusive and malicious messages, and even death threats as they carry out their public service roles.

Ms Brabin says the intimidation has grown since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister ”Now we have to have police at our surgeries,” she said. “It’s got to stop.

“As Prime Minister, he has the obligation - however difficult the times - to bring the country together.

“My question to the Prime Minister is now that you’ve divided us, what are you going to put in place to bring us together?”

Ms Sherriff said: “After speaking out in the House of Commons on Wednesday, I’ve been heartened to receive some messages of support, but also left saddened by the influx of abusive messages that followed.

“When I see and hear the Prime Minister’s words being parroted in abusive emails and phone calls received in my office, it only underscores the impact of his language.

“In this deeply polarised political climate, I understand that people are angry – but when that toxic atmosphere is deliberately being stoked up by the Prime Minister for political purposes – it is beyond irresponsible.

“Everyone deserves to be able to go to about their jobs without fear of threats and abuse, and I sincerely hope, once again, that the Prime Minister will re-consider his language so that we can move beyond this, and shift the focus onto robust debates about what is best for our country.”

Mr Johnson has since said sorry for what he described as a “misunderstanding”.

“My use of the word ‘humbug’ was in the context of people trying to prevent me, us, from using the word ‘surrender’,” he said.

As well as taking a leading role to fight intimidation in public life, the Jo Cox Foundation’s projects includes the Great Get Together project, continuing the pioneering work that Mrs Cox began tacking loneliness and countering identity-based violence.