The Irish Times view on the Westminster suspension: Boris Johnson vs British democracy
This is where Johnson’s interests and those of his country diverge
Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the British parliament for five weeks is an outrageous manoeuvre to curtail MPs from blocking the no-deal exit that a majority of them oppose. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
So this is what taking back control looks like. Having built their campaign for withdrawal from the European Union around the argument that Britain’s sovereign parliament must have its supremacy restored, the Brexiteers who control 10 Downing Street have now decided that the best way of liberating their beloved parliament is to shut it down.
Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the institution for five weeks at a critical moment in the Brexit process is an outrageous manoeuvre to curtail MPs from blocking the no-deal exit that a majority of them oppose. And they oppose it for good reason. A no-deal crash-out would harm Britain’s economy, rob London of any leverage as it enters trade talks with the EU and trash the county’s international reputation. It would also hurt Ireland and the EU. No matter how often Johnson and his acolytes claim they are implementing the will of the people, one fact cannot change: nobody voted for this. Not a single British citizen was ever asked to approve a hard Brexit, let alone a no-deal.
Opposition parties and Europhile Conservative MPs were rightly indignant about Johnson’s attempt to circumvent them. Unfortunately, their protestations would carry more weight if they had shown the will or the wherewithal over the past three years to coalesce and force a better outcome. If they really wanted to frustrate the prime minister, they could vote down his government and install a caretaker administration, but that would require a degree of unity that has proved beyond them.
None of that is to excuse Johnson’s reckless act. The most charitable interpretation is that he is seeking to buy himself a few weeks’ breathing room while he negotiates minor tweaks to the EU-UK deal, the endorsement of which would require him to throw his own party ultras under the bus. But it remains a profoundly risky and undemocratic act. Johnson will argue that MPs are only likely to lose up to six sitting days. More important, however, the move will mean that any new legislation which is incomplete ahead of the suspension will fall at that point. As a result, the window in which any anti-no deal legislation can be enacted will almost certainly close.
Johnson no doubt believes he has struck on a win-win strategy. Either he succeeds in neutering a troublesome parliament or he loses a no-confidence vote and calls an election which opinion polls suggest would give him a bigger majority. But this is where Johnson’s interests and those of his country diverge. By initiating a plan that involves subverting the will of a democratic parliament and setting off constitutional turmoil in the middle of the biggest political crisis in generations, Johnson is signalling that he will do whatever it takes to get his way. Now opponents of a no-deal exit must show they are ready to do what it takes to stop him.