Humiliation for Johnson as MPs take control

Implosion: the verdict of the press is damning this morning.

Does defeat create an opportunity for the PM? The theory goes that he always wanted to be forced into a snap election, even if made to delay Brexit. Enemies warn he is playing with fire.

What a long, rum, smelly day. The Commons was back and our national self-mutilation, from which we had a few weeks’ blissful reprieve, duly resumed. August’s optimism evaporated. Sunshine was cancelled. Instead: a racket of yowling hatreds, a repeated plunging into the filth of Westminster manoeuvrings.

So goes the verdict of The Times’s famous parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, this morning.

Last night, Tory rebels and opposition MPs defeated the Government. The Commons voted 328 to 301 to take control of the agenda, meaning they can bring forward a bill today seeking to delay the UK’s exit date.

In response, Boris Johnson said he would push for an early general election.

Jeremy Corbyn said the delaying bill should be passed before an election was held.

In total, 21 Tory MPs — including Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames, Ken Clarke and Phillip Hammond — rebelled to defeat the Government.

Downing Street said they would have the whip removed, effectively expelling them from the parliamentary party.

It makes a vintage day for the British newspapers that love nothing better than a day of high drama created by a cast of familiar pantomime characters in the UK’s national gladiatorial arena, the palace of Westminster.

The Times carries a front page picture of an animated Prime Minister beneath the headline: “PM loses historic vote.” It says he “lost control of Brexit”.

The Guardian focuses on the significance of the defeat, calling it a “humiliation” for the PM.

The Telegraph uses the headline: “Johnson demands election” and an image of the PM looking composed at the dispatch box. The Matt cartoon has the pets of Downing Street saying: “Somebody has made a horrible mess and I’m not clearing it up.”

The Daily Mail heads straight to the prospect of the UK “hurtling” towards an election next month. It has a “Britain needs you” image of Johnson, and carries the headline: “Now you decide, Britain”.

The Sun echoes The Mail and The Telegraph with Johnson’s call for an election, saying it is time to let Britain decide.

The Express criticises the Tory rebels and Parliament in general, accusing them of “betraying Brexit” on a shameful day for democracy. “Parliament surrenders to the EU” is the headline, above an image of Johnson ruffling his hair.

In the US, a comment piece in The Washington Post takes a step back to reflect on Johnson’s strategy. “Boris’s populist playbook implodes” is the headline and says that “after all the huffing and puffing, the public gets the idea the populist cult leader is an incompetent charlatan”.

Opportunity knocks?

But some, this morning, who are close to the Prime Minister, believe that from this crisis comes an opportunity — to close the unfinished business of the referendum result in 2016, with the Tory Party at last being the bearers of a crystal-clear message on Brexit.

That carries tremendous risk too, says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. Decisiveness may be perceived by many voters as arrogance or aggression. Voters historically do not like being forced back to the polls. And the Tory Party looks narrower, meaner and more right-wing this morning without some of its most famous faces in its ranks.

You Decide

  1. Is every setback in life an opportunity?
  2. Do you think modern politics in Britain is impressive or childish?


  1. If Parliament is theatre, then three of its main characters are Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg. In three separate paragraphs, how would you describe each of them in a theatre programme?
  2. Write a defence of the British Parliament. Imagine you were explaining its merits to a visitor from Mars.

Some People Say...

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former British PM (1940-45 and 1951-55)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
MPs have succeeded in their attempt to take control of the Commons order paper and will try to push through a bill today seeking an extension to Brexit to at least 31 January, blocking a no-deal departure on 31 October.
What do we not know?
Exactly what the terms and timing of a general election will be. Jeremy Corbyn told MPs that his party would only back an election once the bill to block no-deal Brexit completes its passage through the Commons. With the precise date to suspend Parliament still not fixed, the Government could allow time for this perhaps on Monday. Mooted election dates include 14 or 15 October.

Word Watch

Sir Nicholas Soames
Born in 1948 in Croydon, Soames is a grandson of former British PM Sir Winston Churchill, and is the son of Lord and Lady Soames, and a great-nephew of the founders of the Scout movement, Robert Baden-Powell and Olave Baden-Powell.
Ken Clarke
The MP for Rushcliffe since 1970. He is currently the Father of the House, and served in the House as a Conservative MP from his election in 1970 to 2019.
Phillip Hammond
Chancellor of the Exchequer (2016-2019) under PM Theresa May. He has served as the MP for Runnymede and Weybridge since 1997
Matt Prichett, Telegraph’s cartoonist since 1988. In 2003, The Observer listed him as one of the 50 funniest people in the UK.
Someone who pretends to have knowledge, skill or importance.


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