Boris Johnson says sorry for 'misunderstanding' over 'humbug' retort in Commons as Tory conference kicks off in Manchester

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Marr in Manchester. Pic: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Marr in Manchester. Pic: PA
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Boris Johnson said sorry today for what he described as a "misunderstanding" after he labelled a Yorkshire MP's fears about online abuse as "humbug" in the Commons this week.

As the Conservative Party Conference got underway in Manchester, the Prime Minister was quizzed about his use of language during an exchange with Labour's Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff on Wednesday.

Pointing to a plaque in the chamber, commemorating murdered Batley & Spen MP Jo 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."

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"They often quote his words 'Surrender Act', 'betrayal', 'traitor' and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language, and it has to come from the Prime Minister first."

In response, Mr Johnson said: "I have to say, Mr Speaker, I've never heard such humbug in all my life."

He further angered the opposition by suggesting that the best way to honour Mrs Cox - an ardent Remainer - was to "get Brexit done".

In an interview the BBC's Andrew Marr today Mr Johnson said: "My use of the word 'humbug' was in the context of people trying to prevent me, us, from using the word 'surrender'."

Mr Marr said Ms Sherriff, who claimed people quoted the Prime Minister's words in death threats to MPs, was talking about something "very specific".

Mr Johnson said: "In that case, that was a total misunderstanding and that was wrong."

He added: "I can certainly say sorry for the misunderstanding, but my intention was to refuse to be crowded out from using the word 'surrender' to describe the Surrender Act."

Mr Johnson will arrive in Manchester determined to press home his message that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 whatever happens.

He can expect to receive an ecstatic reception from the party faithful - who overwhelmingly back Brexit. But he leaves behind a Westminster in turmoil after the Supreme Court ruled his five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful.

Government whips will be on standby for a potential Commons ambush while the Conservatives are away in Manchester.

Unusually, Parliament will be sitting while the conference is taking place after MPs refused to give the Government a three-day recess in the bitter aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

The Conservatives have insisted the conference will carry on regardless.

It could mean Mr Johnson skipping Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday as it clashes with his keynote speech.

A number of Yorkshire MPs - including Richmond MP and Treasury Minister Rishi Sunak, Thirsk and Malton's Kevin Hollinrake and Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns - are set to be speaking either at the main conference venue or at fringe events around central Manchester. But the situation at Westminster means they may have to skip some of their planned engagements.

Ministers meanwhile insist they can still get a deal with the EU despite gloomy noises about the prospects coming from Brussels.

As the Conservative Party conference began in Manchester, Mr Johnson:

- Set out plans for 40 new hospitals as the Tories prepare to make the NHS a key battleground in the next general election

- Hit out at the "novel and peculiar" decision by the Supreme Court to rule that his suspension of Parliament was unlawful

- Defended his use of language in the Commons during Wednesday's heated exchanges but apologised if there was a misunderstanding over his use of the word "humbug" in response to an MP's concerns about death threats

- Said resolving the Brexit crisis would be the best thing for "people's overall psychological health"

- Insisted he had "no interest to declare" in response to the storm over his links to American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri while he was mayor of London.