Cries of “coward” and “where’s he going” were heard in the Commons as Boris Johnson ran away from an urgent question on the Northern Ireland border.
The Foreign Secretary was asked to make a statement after a memo he sent to the Prime Minister emerged, in which he suggested a hard border post-Brexit was still a possibility.
But Johnson left the Chamber straight after PMQs to the sound of “boo” and “shame” before Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry got to her feet.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington instead answered questions on the Government’s behalf.
Thornberry said: “It is an absolute disgrace and a huge discourtesy to this House that the Foreign Secretary is not here himself to answer the questions of his memo.”
A number of Labour MPs also lined up to criticise Johnson on Twitter.
In memo to Theresa May Johnson said “it is wrong to see the task as maintaining ’no border” and claimed it was the Government’s responsibility to stop the border becoming “significantly harder”.
When he was approached by reporters after a jog in the snow in London, he claimed Remainers were using the Irish border issue to thwart Brexit. He also promised to publish the letter.
Lidington, however, described the memo as “private correspondence” and suggested the Foreign Secretary would not be publishing it.
Labour MP Stephen Doughty said to Lidington: “I think the Foreign Secretary’s conduct on this has been deeply disrespectful to this place and deeply irresponsible on such a sensitive issue.”
He asked Lidington if he thought Johnson was wrong to write the memo “yes or no”.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, meanwhile, said: “We’re not talking about a backbencher or a Parliamentary Undersecretary for paperclips, we’re talking about the Foreign Secretary, who has a central role at the heart of the Brexit negotiations, who is entertaining in memos to the PM the prospect of a hard border.”
Pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry, meanwhile, said it was time for MPs to “wake up” to the risks Brexit and asked where the voice of the 56% of people in Northern Ireland who voted Remain.
Lidington told MPs: “Ministers when they have private conversation or correspondence engage in all sorts of speculative thinking to test out ideas before they are brought to a collective discussion or decision.
“The government, collectively, is accountable to this House for the policies that the government has adopted.
“The government has ruled out both a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and a border in the Irish Sea.”
Johnson told reporters that Remainers were using the Irish border to keep the UK in the Customs Union and that his memo to the PM was a “positive letter”.
He said: “What is going on at the moment is that the issue of the Northern Irish border is being used quite a lot politically to try and keep the UK in the customs union - effectively the single market - so we cannot really leave the EU, that is what is going on.
“What the letter says is that, actually, there are are very good solutions that you could put in place that would obviate, prevent any kind of hard border but would allow goods, people - people of course move totally freely anyway because of the common travel area - allow goods to move freely without let or hindrance whilst allowing the UK to come out of the customs union, take back control of our tariffs schedules, take back control of our commercial policy, take back control of our regulation. It is a very positive letter.”