Commons chaos: Boris Johnson a ‘man with no shame’

British newspapers react to fractious House of Commons debate

British prime minister Boris Johnson points his finger during fractious exchanges on Wednesday.   Photograph:  House of Commons/PA Wire

British prime minister Boris Johnson points his finger during fractious exchanges on Wednesday. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire


The British newspapers react in their usual partisan manner to the extraordinarily fractious scenes in the House of Commons in which UK prime minister Boris Johnson caused uproar by invoking the name of the murdered MP Jo Cox in wanting to get Brexit “done”. In response to one Labour MP, Paula Sherriff, who said the inflammatory language the prime minister used about Brexit was being reflected in deaths threats she was getting, Johnson responded with the word “humbug”.

The Daily Mail

“A survey for the Mail found that 64 per cent of those who voted for his part in 2017 want an early poll. It also showed that most voters think ‘the Establishment’ is determined to stop Brexit. The prime minister threw down the gauntlet to Mr Corbyn yesterday by giving the opposition the chance to table a no confidence motion in the government, triggering an election.”

The Daily Express, an ever-reliable cheerleader for Brexit, did not share in much of the opprobrium directed at Johnson after his Commons performance. In an editorial, it claimed: “The country saw Boris Johnson at his best when he stood before braying MPs and refused to abandon his commitment to lead Britain out of the EU on October 31 come what may.

“The prime minister knows that we will suffer a democratic catastrophe if the result of the historic 2016 referendum is not honoured. He is determined to keep faith with the people of this great country and follow their instructions.”

The Times takes a much more sceptical line about the prime minister’s behaviour. “In extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons yesterday, Boris Johnson told MPs that to ensure they are ‘properly safe’ they must deliver Brexit.

“A day after Supreme Court judges ruled that his suspension of parliament was unlawful, the prime minister returned to Westminster and goaded Jeremy Corbyn over his refusal to back an election.

“Labour members pleaded with the prime minister to moderate his language, but he dismissed as ‘humbug’ claims that his words were being cited in death threats received by MPs.”

The Daily Telegraph, ever the redoubtable cheerleader for its columnist Boris Johnson, rejoiced in his combative performance at the dispatch box. “If opposition MPs returning cock-a-hoop to Westminster imagined that they would find cowed and contrite Government ministers squirming with embarrassment in their places on the front bench, they were quickly disabused,” the paper’s editorial stated.

“The prime minister, on his return from the UN meeting in New York, was not only unapologetic, he was positively combative. In a rousing statement to the House, he savaged Labour’s Brexit delay tactics, decrying the selfishness of Remainer MPs for their failure to respect the referendum vote.

“In short, Mr Johnson demonstrated exactly what the opposition parties will have to face in a general election. He made it clear that the Tory party has a leader unafraid to stand on the side of the people against those who wish to subvert the Brexit vote. He attacked the disgraceful and anti-democratic antics of the parliamentary Remainers, who have sought to bind his hands in negotiations in Brussels. And he exposed the hypocrisy of politicians who think that the voters are blind to their tawdry machinations in Westminster. Is it any wonder that so many of them are scared of an election?”

The I newspaper’s columnist Oliver Duff wrote: “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a little boy called Boris. He wanted to be world king.

“When, instead, he became prime minister of the United Kingdom, and he was found by the Supreme Court to have illegally shut down parliament, he returned to the House of Commons and apologised to MPs, to the public and to the monarch, for trampling on centuries of political convention.

“Meanwhile, back in 2019 Britain, the other Boris Johnson faced down a furious Commons with the humility and remorse for which he is renowned. His tone, and his contempt for fellow MPs and the judiciary, demeaned his office and our politics.

“Compromise and co-operation are required. Whether or not he can deliver Brexit, his behaviour – calculated and inflammatory – showed that he will not be the man to heal our politics and mend social fractures. Delivering Brexit alone will not do that.”

The Financial Times identified Johnson’s Commons performance as laying the groundwork for an early general election.

“Boris Johnson has paved the way for an acrimonious ‘people versus parliament’ general election with a defiant defence of his Brexit strategy in which he refused to take any blame for his historic defeat in the Supreme Court.

“On a day of ferocious debate in the House of Commons, which was recalled after Britain’s highest court overturned the prime minister’s attempt to suspend it for five weeks, he claimed MPs were trying to ‘sabotage’ Brexit.”

The Sun strongly endorsed Boris Johnson’s performance: “Rampaging Boris Johnson dared ‘scared’ Jeremy Corbyn to give him an election so voters can end the Brexit logjam,” the paper’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn wrote.

“Parliament returned after a Supreme Court ruling that its suspension for five weeks by the PM was illegal. But in explosive Commons scenes, Mr Johnson refused to apologise for asking the Queen to order the prorogation. Instead, he tried to turn the tables with a fresh election bid so he can win a pro-Brexit majority. With MPs having shot down his two previous attempts to hold a poll, he called on Mr Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence in his Government, which the Tories would also back.

“The PM goaded: ‘Is he going to dodge a vote of no confidence in me as Prime Minister in order to escape the verdict of the voters? I wonder — does he in his heart even want to be Prime Minister anymore?’ ”

“Mr Johnson laid down the gauntlet as he struck back against his Supreme Court humiliation and confronted his critics head-on. He thundered: ‘This Parliament must either stand aside and let this Government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face the day of reckoning with the voters’.”

The Daily Mirror took the opposite tack with the front-page headline ‘Man with no shame’. Political editor Pippa Crerar wrote: “Boris Johnson was hauled back into the Commons yesterday after his Supreme Court slapdown, but failed to show an ounce of remorse. He angered MPs by saying the best way to honour murdered Remainer MP Jo Cox was to ‘get Brexit done’.

“But Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn said the PM should have resigned. ’Yet here he is, forced back to this House to rightfully face scrutiny without a shred of remorse or humility’.”

The Guardian’s front-page banner headline spoke of MPs’ fury as Johnson cliams to speak for Britain on Brexit. Its reporters Heather Stewart and Kate Proctor wrote: “An unrepentant Boris Johnson has sparked a furious backlash after he repeated his criticism of the supreme court judgment, and rejected MPs’ pleas to moderate his ‘inflammatory’ language as ‘humbug’.

“Addressing a rowdy and adversarial House of Commons, just hours after flying back early from New York, Johnson went on the attack, accusing Jeremy Corbyn of trying to thwart Brexit and running scared of an election.

“Johnson infuriated opposition MPs by dismissing fears that his use of language such as ‘surrender’ and ‘betrayal’ was dangerous in a heightened political climate. To gasps, he claimed the best way to honour the memory of the murdered MP Jo Cox was to ‘get Brexit done’.

“And he continued to deploy the ‘people versus parliament’ rhetoric that has become a signature of his premiership, claiming: ‘The people outside this house understand what is happening … The leader of the opposition and his party don’t trust the people’.”