‘Spoiled brat’ vs ‘slippery MPs’ (round two)

The final push: By Tutu, with apologies to Michael Cummings, British newspaper cartoonist (1919-1997).

Is Parliament harming itself? After MPs spoiled the Government’s Super Saturday, Boris Johnson has written one letter to Europe asking for a Brexit delay — and another arguing against it.

In the dying hours of Saturday night, three letters from the Prime Minister arrived in Brussels. The first⁠ — a stilted, legal missive ⁠— requested an extension of Article 50 from 31 October 2019 (the day that Boris Johnson has insisted he will take Britain out of the EU) to 31 January 2020. It was not signed.

A second short covering letter from ambassador Sir Tim Barrow made it clear that the request was from Parliament, and not from the Government.

Finally, there was a third, signed, personal letter from Boris Johnson. At length, he argued that “a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us”.

We now have the incredible spectacle of a Prime Minister openly declaring that he does not want to do what Parliament demands of him by law.

“In a previous life, some things were simply unthinkable, but not anymore. Our drama has jumped the shark,” wrote James Graham in The Sunday Times yesterday.

The Government has pledged to press on with getting its deal passed, but it is staring down another week of votes, amendments and wrangling with a divided Parliament.

Twenty-four hours earlier, it looked like the messy drama might finally be tied up.

It was billed as Super Saturday, the day when MPs would finally pass the Prime Minister’s deal and put an end to 1,212 days of confusion and discord.

But it wasn’t to be. As one million voters marched through the streets of London, MPs voted to pass Sir Oliver Letwin’s amendment by 322 votes to 306. Designed as a water-tight defence against a no-deal Brexit, it delays MPs’ final approval of the deal until all the pieces of law that go along with it have been passed.

In effect, this forced the Prime Minister to ask the EU for an extension before 11pm on Saturday night, the deadline previously set down by the Benn act.

“The House of Fools,” fumed The Mail on Sunday. “Why won’t they let us leave?” cried The Sunday Express.

Once again, Parliament and the Government — the two great flagstones of British democracy — are in historic opposition.

In The Daily Mail, Dominic Lawson accused MPs of committing an act of “self-harm” and “trashing their office”.

Quoting former Prime Minister Theresa May, Lawson wrote that Remainer MPs, elected on a promise to enact the result of the referendum, “didn’t mean what they said” and now⁠ — through their determined frustration of Brexit⁠ — are guilty of “a most egregious con trick on the British people”.

Is Parliament harming itself?

Yours insincerely

Yes, argues Lawson. These indecisive, slippery MPs have dragged out “more than three years of obfuscation, prevarication and wilful obstructionism”. By repeatedly frustrating the Government’s efforts to enact the referendum result, they have damaged trust in the institution of Parliament — a scar which could take a long time to heal.

No, writes The Observer. Johnson “is a Prime Minister without a mandate” who has “proved his willingness to ride roughshod over Parliament in order to get his way”. First, he tried to close down Parliament⁠ — an action ruled illegal in court ⁠— and on Saturday, MPs were given “just a few hours” to examine the proposed deal. The heroic actions of MPs “have stopped Johnson’s authoritarianism in its tracks”.

You Decide

  1. Should Brexit be delayed?
  2. Is Boris Johnson behaving like a “spoiled brat”?


  1. Make a list of the five top issues you think the UK Government should be focusing on. Is Brexit in there?
  2. With your own research, write a few paragraphs about the origins of democracy.

Some People Say...

“The Prime Minister is behaving like a spoiled brat.”

John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Saturday, MPs were due to have a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU. However, Sir Oliver Letwin proposed an amendment to delay the final decision until after all the related pieces of law are passed, arguing that this measure will prevent a no-deal Brexit. The amendment passed, effectively delaying the vote. Compelled by the Benn Act, Johnson wrote to the EU requesting a Brexit delay, but sent another letter making it clear that he does not support one.
What do we not know?
What happens now. The Government is expected to get MPs to vote on their deal on Tuesday. Rather than give an immediate response to the delay request, the EU is expected to wait and watch how the next few days play out in Parliament. Johnson will be hoping that his deal can pass without a delay.

Word Watch

An official letter.
Jumped the shark
(Usually about a film or TV series) when events become absurdly far-fetched, indicating a decline in quality.
Super Saturday
Parliament was sitting on a Saturday for the first time since Argentina invaded the Falklands. This event triggered the Falklands War, and Britain successfully defended its territory.
1,212 days
The length of time between the EU referendum and Saturday.
One million
According to The Guardian and The Independent, one million protesters attended the People’s Vote March. Pro-Brexit activists also launched protests.
Letwin worried that if MPs passed Johnson’s deal but failed to pass the necessary legislation over the next week, a no-deal Brexit could happen by accident on 31 October.
The Benn act
It requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date — currently 31 October 2019 — by a certain deadline if a deal is not agreed. This is why Johnson was legally required to seek an extension on Saturday night.
Shockingly bad.
Obfuscation, prevarication
Deliberately making something hard to understand; being untruthful.
The authority to carry out a policy.
To do something in a forceful way with no regard for others’ opinions or rights.


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