Jo Cox Foundation urges MPs to sign up to code of conduct to stop intimidation

Jo Cox
Jo Cox

The foundation set up in memory of murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox is urging politicians to sign up to a code of conduct in the wake of the storm about inflammatory language.

The Jo Cox Foundation and the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) have written to Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and the other party leaders asking them to sign up to a Joint Standard of Conduct to help protect election candidates and agree a responsible framework for legitimate public debate.

In a letter to the leaders of all parties represented at Westminster, the Rt. Hon. Jacqui Smith, Chair of the Jo Cox Foundation, and Lord Evans, Chair of the CSPL, said: “Tackling intimidation is a cross-party issue; the abuse and intimidation we are witnessing knows no political boundaries.

"In light of the heightened events in Parliament last week, we are writing to you today as a matter of urgency to request your commitment in principle to the Joint Standard of Conduct; to undertake to uphold the Joint Standard alongside your party’s existing internal framework; and to do all in your power to facilitate the mutual agreement of the terms of the Joint Standard before the next general election.”

Under proposals put forward jointly by the CPSL and the foundation, the Joint Standard would set out the minimum standards of behaviour expected from all political party candidates and members. It has been developed based upon recommendations made in the CSPL’s 2017 report on intimidation in public life and a review of existing internal party codes of conduct.

The Standard will actively promote and support the Nolan Principles of Public Life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership – as the basis for ensuring civility in public life.

The letter adds: “You will know only too well that there is a growing recognition that intimidation experienced by those in public life poses a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the British public reject the current toxicity of discourse and debate. We believe that your commitment to the Joint Standard will send a powerful, positive and hopeful message at a time when it is sorely needed.”

Meanwhile Boris Johnson this weekend said sorry for what he described as a "misunderstanding" after he labelled a Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff's fears about online abuse as "humbug" in the Commons last week.

Pointing to a plaque in the chamber, commemorating murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, Ms Sherriff had 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."

"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 yesterday, 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."