The UK and Europe
King Boris takes on Parliament in a fight to the finish
Denis MacShane / Sep 2019
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Revolutions devour their children. The last revolutionary moment in England was the civil war between King Charles I and Parliament in the 17th century. It ended with members of parliament voting to cut off the King’s head in 1648, 150 years before the French national assembly decided to imitate the English parliament.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the so-called regicides fled for sanctuary to Switzerland and many are buried along the shores of Lac Léman between Montreux and Vevey.
Today, it the new king, Boris the First, who has decided he can do without the House of Commons. For King Boris the House of Commons gets in the way of his Brexit revolution which demands a total amputation of all relations with the European Union.
There was no television, or Twitter in the 17th century but today all corners of the United Kingdom are watching the Brexit revolution unfold and devour King Boris and his inner court of men whose faith in turning their back on Europe is now one of the most ardent political passions on display.
Johnson, like Matteo Salvini, in Italy is finding that parliaments do not co-exist easily with authoritarian nationalist politicians.
Last week Johnson announced he would suspend Parliament until mid-October so that he did not have to face questions from MPs. However he could not avoid one week of parliament sitting in order to pass into law bills that had not been completed before the summer recess at the end of July.
He came back to face uproar at his decision to suspend the Commons and a suspicion fuelled by leaks that he wanted to support a No Deal Brexit, a complete rupture with the EU, which would close down all commercial and economic traffic with the continent at the end of October.
Instead, as King Charles found out, Parliaments are stubborn bodies to intimidate and stop thinking. MPs from all parties proposed a bill which makes it a legal obligation for King Boris to ask for an extension of negotiating time from the EU at least until the end of January.
The king exploded in anger. “This was unacceptable limit on his powers” and “It would destroy any leverage I have Brussels if I cannot threaten to leave the EU without even paying the money the UK owes and thus force President Macron and Chancellor Merkel to kneel before me and accept my demands.”
At the weekend every major city in Britain was filled with angry demonstrators denouncing King Boris’s coup against Parliament. On Tuesday, the new law ordering him to obey parliament and request an extension and inform parliament of what he was saying to his fellow 27 European unions presidents and prime ministers.
More than 20 Conservative MPs defied their new chief and voted to defend parliament. In an uncontrolled outburst of anger, King Boris ordered them all to be expelled from the Conservative Party. One of them, Sir Nicholas Soames is the grandson of Winston Churchill and comes from one the greatest Tory Party families over three centuries of English history.
But like a Lenin purifying the Bolshevik Party of unreliable Mensheviks and old socialists, King Boris wanted to make a public example of his disloyal former colleague who had held the highest ministerial offices in the nation. Two former Chancellors with nearly a century of loyal Conservative Party membership to their names were expelled and television and radio were full of anger at what Johnson had done.
For the first time Johnson had to address the House of Commons as Prime Minister. He is a clever demagogue and knows how to make an audience laugh. But the House of Commons is a serious place where big decisions are taken in a responsible way. Johnson was revealed as a poor orator, losing his way, and unable to command the House of Commons where MPs openly laughed at him. By comparison, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the weakest political leaders the Labour Party has ever had, looked commanding as MPs listened to his reasoned critiques of the Prime Minister.
King Boris then threatened to call a new election to get a mandate for his No Deal Brexit policy. But two-thirds of all MPs have to agree to hold a new election. Johnson could not find enough support and was again humiliated as MPs rejected his demand for an election anticipé.
His third humiliation came as his brother, Joe Johnson, resigned from the council of ministers and announced he was leaving public life as he could not support his brother.
Never in the lifetime of anyone in Britain has the Commons descended into such chaos mixed with farce with the Prime Minister of Britain so completely humiliated day after day.
The next developments are unclear. Johnson insists that the UK must leave the EU at Toussaint but members of Parliament are refusing to vote for this. The political parties have weak or inexperienced leaders with Scottish nationalist politicians hoping the crisis in London can lead to a referendum for independence in Scotland and the end of the United Kingdom with its English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish national components.
The saga of Brexit is only beginning and will last many, many years and do immense damage to Great Britain in the 21st century.