MPs don’t need to ‘mind their language’

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The House of Commons can be intense. It’s the crucible across which the most serious – and sometimes not so serious – matters of the day are contested and explored by our MPs. Brexit, of course, has featured incessantly over the past three years as MPs from all parties have scrutinised first Theresa May‘s, then Boris Johnson’s attempts to negotiate with the European Union.

The rhetoric over such a divisive issue has seemed to only get more and more severe, both inside and outside the Commons. This is hardly surprising. Efforts to alter or even outright stop Brexit have increased significantly since the referendum in 2016. Consequently, frustration from Brexiteers has increased at the state of negotiations, or the apparent lack of willingness from the government to force the UK’s hand against the European Union in them. Both sides have plenty to complain about; and neither is afraid to make it known. Whether on Twitter, or in real life, there is no sign that the Brexit debate is slowing down.

This is how it ought to be. If the most important political issue of today cannot be subjected to the full force of public examination, then our democracy would be in a pretty poor state. It is essential to thrash out ideas and then proposals to develop them; to influence how our representatives think and to help weed out what proposals are worthy of consideration or not.

MPs also have a role to play in this within the House of Commons. However, recently, some MPs – notably Paula Sherriff, who brought this to the attention of her fellow MPs – have been reporting a large amount of abuse and threats directed at them while they have been engaging in the subject of Brexit.

Any abuse or threats directed at MPs from any side of the Brexit debate is appalling and should cease. Personal threats, rape threats, or even death threats targeted at any MPs is disgusting, and absolutely reprehensible. The murder – nay, assassination – of Jo Cox during the leadup to the referendum in 2016 demonstrates how vulnerable an MP can be. There is definitely something to be said about offering MPs extra security to enable them to carry out their surgery work effectively.

However, this does not mean censorship should flatten or blunt the chief tool at the disposal of an MP – their speech. It would be highly undesirable if an MP of all people had their language constricted. In light of said threats, there have been calls for the language used in the House of Commons to be mediated. Some have objected to the use of the term ‘Surrender Bill’ by Boris Johnson in relation to the so-called ‘Benn Act’, for instance.

This is heavily misguided.

To call the Benn Act – which forces the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to Article 50 from the European Union, unless a hostile Parliament votes otherwise – a ‘surrender bill’ is entirely appropriate. Furthermore, the devastating speech given by the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, in which he derided the current Parliament as a ‘dead Parliament’ is also entirely legitimate. There is absolutely no reason to think that he or the Prime Minister are inciting violence or stirring hatred. This language is to be expected, after all, when the House of Commons refuses to support a Brexit deal whilst also refusing to go to the country for a general election. MPs should not be able to hide behind cries for censorship when they fail their constituents.