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PM ‘model of restraint’ amid Parliament language row

Media captionBoris Johnson: “I think I’ve been the model of restraint”

Boris Johnson says he has been “a model of restraint” when it comes to language around the Brexit debate.

The PM was accused of dismissing abuse fears of female MPs as “humbug” during a heated debate in the Commons.

Mr Johnson said there had been a “misunderstanding” over his intention, which he apologised for.

But he claimed there was a “cloud of indignation” around the use of terms like “surrender” to distract from MPs’ desire to frustrate Brexit.

Mr Johnson made the comments when speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr ahead of the start of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

It has been a turbulent week for the PM – facing stormy scenes in Westminster after a ruling by the Supreme Court that his suspension of Parliament was unlawful.

Rows later broke out over Mr Johnson’s Commons conduct – and that of his Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – with Labour’s Paula Sheriff accusing the PM of using “dangerous” language.

Questions are also continuing over his links with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.

But he will use the conference to try to focus on delivering Brexit and making funding promises for public services.

Media captionFurious MPs confront Boris Johnson over his language

On the opening day, ministers have promised to spend billions on hospital projects across England in the next decade.

But opposition MPs back in London could stage a no-confidence vote in the government – with senior SNP MP Stewart Hosie telling the BBC such a move may be the only way to avoid the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October.

No 10 failed to secure a recess for the conference, meaning Tory MPs could face travelling between Manchester and Westminster for crucial votes while the conference takes place.

Speaking to Andrew Marr, Mr Johnson defended his decision to repeatedly refer to the Benn Act – which is designed to force the PM to seek an extension rather than lead the country into a no-deal Brexit – as “the surrender bill”.

Ms Sheriff and others – including former Tory minister Amber Rudd – said the use of such terms was inflaming tensions, “inciting violence” and contributing to threats made against them.

The PM said any such threats were “deplorable” but he did not regret “using the word surrender to describe the surrender act”.

“Military metaphors are old, standard, Parliamentary terms,” he continued, and stopping politicians from using them would “impoverish debate”.

“I think everybody should calm down,” he said, but asked whether that included him, he added: “I think I’ve been the model of restraint.”

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Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds arrived in Manchester on Saturday evening

On Brexit, Mr Johnson said he still thought there was a “good chance” of getting a deal with the EU, but it depended on “the common sense of our EU partners”.

He said: “If they suspect or think there is a realistic chance the UK can be kept in [the EU], that clearly takes away a lot of our negotiating freedom.”

Mr Johnson insisted negotiations were “not being helped” by the Benn Act, but the government was “working incredibly hard”.

The PM added: “The Brexit discussion has been going on for far too long and it is true that tempers on both sides have now become inflamed.

“The best way to end this is to get Brexit done on 31 October and move the country forwards – and that is what we are going to do.”

This is a party conference like no other.

Brexit is a month away – possibly. But the government could face a vote of confidence before then.

And as activists and MPs gather here, Parliament continues to sit at Westminster, with the potential that the opposition parties do their best to make life awkward for the Conservatives, by hauling their MPs 200 miles south for votes.

Brexit, inevitably, dominates. But Boris Johnson and others will endeavour, at least, to broaden the conversation – to set out a platter of other policies they hope might prove appetising to voters at a general election.

They’ll aim to portray Parliament as a pointless talking shop – “blocking everything and trying to delay Brexit” as a source put it – and to portray themselves as the only party that can get Brexit done.

But the last few weeks have made one thing abundantly clear – the prime minister is in office, but barely in control.

A small group of anti-Brexit protesters gathered near the conference venue on Saturday evening as Mr Johnson arrived in Manchester with his partner, Carrie Symonds.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has fresh allegations about the American businesswoman at the centre of claims about her links to the prime minister.

The paper claims Jennifer Arcuri told four friends that she had an affair with Mr Johnson while he was mayor of London.

On Friday, the Greater London Authority (GLA) referred Mr Johnson to the police watchdog over allegations Ms Arcuri, a US technology entrepreneur, received favourable treatment because of her friendship with him.

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Vicki Couchman/REX/Shutterstock

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Boris Johnson with Jennifer Arcuri at an event in 2014

Ms Arcuri joined trade missions led by Mr Johnson while he was mayor and her company received several thousand pounds in sponsorship grants.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct will now consider whether there are grounds to investigate the prime minister for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

But Mr Johnson insisted he had “no interest to declare” when pressed by Andrew Marr over whether he made his personal relationship with her known at the time.

“Everything was was done with full propriety,” he added.

The PM also appeared to claim the story was politically motivated, saying someone in his position “expects a lot of shot and shell”.

Referring to the announcement by his successor as London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, that he had ordered City Hall officials to look into the allegations, Mr Johnson said: “The current mayor… could spend more time investing in police officers than press officers.”

Media captionCorbyn: Emergency government ‘more likely every day’

As well as promises on hospitals, the government is also announcing a new approach to NHS mental health treatment to be trialled in 12 areas of England – with housing and job support alongside psychological help.

Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to speak on Monday and Home Secretary Priti Patel – talking about tackling crime – on Tuesday.

Animal welfare policies, environmental plans – including a proposed £1bn fund to boost the electric motor industry and a pledge to plant one million new trees – are on the agenda.

Back at Westminster, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to bring opposition leaders together at a meeting on Monday to plan their next steps to avert a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Corbyn has said he would be ready to become a caretaker PM if Mr Johnson was forced from No 10.

PM ‘model of restraint’ amid Parliament language row}

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