Boris Johnson has demanded politicians be more “civil and kind” to each after debates surround the provision of free school meals sparked public reprisals against MPs.
The prime minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said the debate around free school meals had made life “very unpleasant” for Conservative MPs.
This comes as the prime minister accused Labour supporters of using a vote on Universal Credit to incite hate.
Labour has used Opposition Day – a day in which the opposition is allowed to set the agenda in the Commons – to push through a vote on making the £20-a-week top-up to Universal Credit introduced at the outset of the pandemic permanent and extending the free school meals programme.
Johnson instructed Tory MPs to abstain and accused Labour of “playing politics” and “inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)”.
In a WhatsApp chat with backbench Tory MPs, Johnson said: “After the shameful way in which they used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues – especially female colleagues – I have decided not to give them that opportunity.”
Asked about the remarks, Stratton admitted: “It’s clearly not like the storming of the Capitol.”
But she said: “The PM is urging everybody … to be civil and kind to each other when debating matters that clearly matter greatly and passionately not just to parliamentarians but to people up and down the country.”
Johnson himself has been a vehicle for hostile language in the Commons.
In 2019, he was broadly criticised for calling a bill to extend the Brexit deadline as the “Surrender Act”.
He also downplayed death threats received by MPs who opposed Johnson’s handling of the Brexit process.
When Labour MP Paula Sherriff told Johnson she had received threats using the same language as the prime minister, he dismissed it.
“I have to say that I have never heard such humbug in all my life,” he said.
He once described Theresa May’s Brexit deal as a “suicide vest” – a comment denounced by one Tory minister at the time – and has made a slew of racially and culturally offensive remarks.
Monitoring group Tell Mama said the number of anti-Muslim abuse incidents jumped by 375% following a column written by Johnson in which he said women who wear face veils looked like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Johnson defended the comments, saying he wanted to live in a “culture that allows people to speak frankly and doesn’t convict them of malice aforethought”.