The Commons vs. Johnson: is parliament right?

Before being suspended last night by Prime Minister Boris Johnson the British parliament once again rejected his motion for a general election, meaning that there won't be a vote until the end of October at the earliest. Johnson remains adamant that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October but the House of Commons also passed a law banning a no-deal Brexit. Observers draw very different conclusions about the showdown taking place in the UK.

Open/close all quotes
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Parliament must defend democracy

After two important votes against Prime Minister Johnson the British Parliament must not let up now, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung urges:

“To be prepared for the third step, all the opposition forces must use the parliamentary break to agree on a common defence strategy. They need to put together a potential caretaker government that can replace Johnson's regime should it actually decide to go against the law in October. This caretaker government would then have to enforce the postponement of the withdrawal date that Parliament has voted for and then quickly call new elections. Only in this way can Parliament defend its sovereignty and the British constitutional order - not against the people, but against the prime minister.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Elites think they know better than the rest

Former MEP Traian Ungureanu, by contrast, criticises the British parliament on his blog with Adevărul:

“In the end the mother of all parliaments has decided to orphan the nation and destroy the referendum vote. At least 17.4 million voters have been written off as foolish and misguided. Amazingly, this is being called democracy and those who oppose it are described as supporters of the tyranny. The parliament, and by extension the establishment, has once again taken matters into its own hands. Only the idea that the elites know better that the rest can be behind this vexing sense of entitlement.”

Ethnos (GR) /

Johnson's last card

Johnson doesn't have much room for manoeuvre now, Ethnos concludes:

“He only has three options: to disregard the law passed by parliament that blocks a no-deal Brexit. To contradict his own words and postpone his country's exit from the EU for a third time ... Or, and this third scenario is considered by many to be the most likely: to step down and ask the Queen to send the Labour leader to negotiate a deal instead while he waits for the election. This is probably the only card he has left to play.”

Irish Independent (IE) /

No-deal Brexit would break Johnson's spell

The Irish Independent writes that to open the British public's eyes to reality,

“Jeremy Corbyn should leave Johnson in control for several months, until the full chaotic consequences of his hard Brexit have been experienced by the British electorate and the desire to drive its unscrupulous architect from power has taken firm root. At present, Labour is resisting an election only until after October 31, Johnson's original promised Brexit day. If Brexit doesn't occur then, this may embarrass Johnson. But a delay as short as this may not be enough to stop Labour being reduced to pawns in the subsequent election.”

Novi list (HR) /

Europe must end the torment

Europe must not put off Brexit any longer, Novi list urges:

“Johnson's negotiating tactic is nothing but suicidal blackmail. ... Now the majority in Parliament is forcing him to ask for yet another extension for Brexit, on the assumption that the EU will consent to any request. But Europe should end this torment now and reject any further delays. Twice already the EU members have granted British requests and postponed Brexit even though British politicians have failed to use the extra time to reach a consensus on any form of Brexit. For too long now Brexit has been an unwanted burden with which Britain has distracted Europe from its real challenges and problems.”

Mediapart (FR) /

Clear rules would be helpful

Britain is starting to suffer from the fact that it lacks a written constitution, political scientist Philippe Marlière points out in Mediapart:

“Everything rests on precedent and tradition. Britain's parliamentary democracy works well as long as its key players are tolerant, pluralist and liberal, and motivated by the will to serve the public. Since 2016, however, those in charge of government have been among the most opportunist politicians imaginable. In such circumstances the lack of written rules can lead to a situation that is dangerous not only for the good functioning of government, but also for democracy in general.”

The Times (GB) /

Johnson's opponents have little in common

The anti-Johnson alliance in the Houe of Commons has little or no chance of success, The Times concludes:

“Here is the serious and probably insurmountable problem about the idea. The government of national unity is hopelessly split on Brexit. It would be comprised of last-ditch Remainers who will settle for nothing short of a referendum and lifelong Tories who have voted three times for a withdrawal agreement. It would not have a settled policy on the only issue which can give it life. ... There is harmony among them about preventing no deal but disunity about what should come next.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

Britain now in the club of divided countries

The weekly paper Tygodnik Powszechny doesn't expect the political situation to be resolved any time soon:

“The root cause of the biggest political crisis in Britain since World War II certainly won't change. The country is divided. The United Kingdom, where moderate politicians have been successful for centuries and all extremes were treated like harmless passing whims, has joined the club of countries where this kind of politics is no longer possible. Two camps are engaged in a political life and death struggle and the focus against which all else pales into insignificance is the stance on Brexit.”

Kommersant (RU) /

Former outsiders now dominating politics

Britain has fallen victim to populism, writes Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, in a guest commentary for Kommersant:

“People who have until now remained silent are becoming involved in politics. That took place on the left several years ago, when the voter-base for the Labour leadership was broadened and Corbyn got the job. On the right, the impulse came with the Brexit referendum: Eurosceptics shook the nationalist masses out of their slumber. The prospect of a snap election is turning into a tussle between former outsiders who have now become leaders. The system of elitist leadership of the United Kingdom has been derailed. ... Perhaps the Brexit shock will become a breakdown that is followed by a recovery - although so far there is little indication that this will be the case.”

De Morgen (BE) /

A lively democracy

De Morgen praises the MPs in the House of Commons:

“The Brexit debate illustrates the full power of a lively democracy. ... [Conservative MPs] are proving who represents the sovereign power of the people. This is more than a symbol. The result of the debate about Brexit could potentially be decisive for prosperity and peace on the British Isles. It does the British MPs credit that they have crossed the boundaries of majority and opposition and are making every effort to link the desire of a majority of citizens - an orderly exit from the EU - as far as possible to securing prosperity and peace.”

Adevărul (RO) /

The representatives of the people take control

The approval of the law preventing a no-deal Brexit has strengthened the British parliament, writes commentator Cristian Unteanu in his blog with Adevărul:

“This political defeat is all the more painful for Conservatives who continue to stand by Boris Johnson. Because the situation clearly shows that parliament has regained full control of its own agenda and that it won't tolerate any putsch attempts on the part of the prime minister, who as you know has proposed to the Queen that the House of Commons be prorogued until October 14 in a bid to prevent any Brexit debate.”

El País (ES) /

Ineffectual threats

The parliament's decision to block a no-deal Brexit is also a result of Johnson's behaviour, comments El País:

“Johnson's impetuous arrival in Downing Street acted as a catalyst for the front against a no-deal Brexit, which now has a majority in Westminster. His abuse of parliament, his lack of respect for Ulster and Scotland and the pressure on his own parliamentary faction, which ended in the defection of its best and most respectable members, did the rest. ... Up to now, Johnson has prevailed with threats and lies. ... But the threats didn't work with his own party, where the rebellious MPs preferred to be excluded rather than give in.”

The Times (GB) /

The PM hasn't lost yet by a long shot

Johnson could emerge as the big winner from a snap election, The Times says:

“This is an incredibly dangerous moment for those of us who detest what Johnson is doing in driving the country and the Tory party to the right. His appeal looks puzzlingly limited. He is only polling a third of the vote, well below Theresa May in 2017. Yet on current forecasts that will win him a decent majority, perhaps 25 to 30 seats, because the opposition to him is so split. Unless the left and liberal parties can co-ordinate just as effectively on parliamentary and electoral strategy as they did in last night's vote, Johnson could still be on track to get the victory he's lying to achieve.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

EU also to blame

Britain is not solely responsible for the Brexit disaster, Göteborgs-Posten points out:

“Yes, the EU negotiators showed enormous patience, nevertheless there are two sides to any negotiation. ... The EU was often rather stubborn in its attitude. For instance it rejected Britain's request to be allowed to remain in the Customs Union (from which both Britain and the EU would benefit) while restricting the freedom of movement of EU citizens. ... Why not sign an agreement that serves the interests of both parties?”