The battle of Britain: Johnson v Parliament

Humbled? Johnson as King John in 1215 when the barons forced him to sign away powers in the Magna Carta.

Who governs Britain? Has a bumptious and untrustworthy Prime Minister been brought to heel by six thumping parliamentary defeats? Or have MPs shot themselves in the collective foot?

Early this morning, MPs rejected a general election for the second time.

Some hours before that, the Act forcing the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline became law. And MPs passed another motion obliging the Government to make public every memo and text message produced by aides about no-deal planning.

In other words, Parliament tied the Government up in knots.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, spent the night relentlessly mocking his opponents for running away from a general election. He refused again point blank to ask the EU for any delay to Brexit.

And rather oddly he seemed quite happy with the turn of events.


The answer is that the fundamental battle is over who governs Britain. The contenders are Parliament and the Government. And both sides think they have won.

Parliament thinks it has won for the reasons above. But Johnson also thinks he has won because he is sure that he will win a general election.

So who governs Britain today?


It’s a balance, goes one argument. Parliament is sovereign, but only because it is elected by voters. It is the voters who give legitimacy to both Parliament and the Government. They elect the Government to run the country and Parliament to approve what the Government does. As long as the Government is abiding by the will of the people, then it is perfectly legitimate.

Not so, say others. Parliament governs Britain. Our system is called representative democracy because we elect MPs to go to Parliament, study all the issues, argue and debate them and pass laws. Without Parliament, the Government is a tyranny and democracy is dead. By suspending Parliament, the Government has mounted a soft coup.

You Decide

  1. Are you proud of the British Parliament?


  1. Make a poster with the slogan: “Silenced” (like some MPs did last night) to protest the suspension of Parliament.

Some People Say...

“The house cannot choose. It will not let anyone else choose. It can only decide to dither and delay.”

Boris Johnson in the debate last night

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In March 1629, Charles I grew tired of a Parliament which would not support his foreign policy errors and ordered the shut-down of Parliament. The MPs were so angry when speaker John Finch announced the closure of the session, they left their seats and sat on him. Holding him in the chair meant that he could not rise from his seat and, so, close the house. As he was stuck under at least five members, the MPs passed a series of motions (suggestions) condemning the king’s policies.
What do we not know?
Whether MPs last night could have achieved the same if they had tried harder. Here’s what the Labour MP Alex Sobel says about it: “The action taken by myself and other members to beseech Mr Speaker to not accede to Black Rod’s request, echoes the action of members to try and prevent the speaker proroguing at the request of Charles I. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pass any motions against Boris Johnson’s policies”.

Word Watch

The Act
House of Lords Speaker Lord Fowler confirmed a bill aimed at blocking a ‘no-deal’ Brexit on 31 October had become law yesterday after the Queen gave it final approval. Known as the Benn-Burt Bill, it would extend the Brexit deadline until 31 January 2020 if no deal is agreed with the EU by 19 October.
People whose job is to help MPs.
In this case, the most powerful.
Follows the law or rules.
Obeying, following.
Cruel or unreasonable use of power.
A sudden, violent or illegal seizure of power.

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