Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a stinging defeat on Saturday as Parliament rebuffed his campaign to take Britain out of the European Union by the end of the month and forced him to seek an extension that he had vowed never to pursue.
The background to this is as a direct result of the lack of trust by a majority of parliamentarians about how committed Boris and his group of parliamentary supporters are to parliamentary process.
The prime minister argued that it was the best deal Britain could hope to strike — one that, in his telling, would position the country for a thriving future as an agile, free agent in the global economy — and that any further delay would be “pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust.”
Instead, by a vote of 322 to 306, lawmakers passed a last-minute amendment, brought by Oliver Letwin, an expelled member of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party, that would delay final approval on the agreement until after Parliament passes the detailed legislation to enact it.
In other words, parliament decided that they were interested in seeing some actual legislation to vote on. That they wanted to see that before they would look at the agreement that Boris and his ministers have hammered out with the EU. Since the ink on that agreement and any supporting legislation has barely dried (or possibly even written) before MPs had seen it, this wasn’t surprising.
What is surprising is that Boris’s ministers weren’t ready to provide the enabling legislation or to have time to pass it within the usual process.
The turbulent events left Mr. Johnson’s agreement in limbo and threw British politics once again into chaos, with any number of outcomes possible: a no-deal exit from the European Union, a second referendum on whether to leave at all, or a general election that could shift the balance in Parliament. The only sure result was continuing frustration and confusion among the British public.
The government is appointed by the ‘Crown’ to provide direction to the country. However the British public vote in their MPs to act as their representatives specifically to look at the detail work involved in the legislation.
The kickback for not doing their job and letting half-arsed legislation through won’t particularly land on the ‘Crown’. However it will land directly on the MPs from within their electorates by the public that they represent. MPs spend a lot of time listening to their public. If they appear to be obstructive to Boris, then that is where that comes from – the public.
Late on Saturday night, Mr. Johnson formally applied to the European Union, in an unsigned letter, for another extension of Britain’s departure, something he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than do.
Which is precisely why the parliamentarians don’t trust him.
Mr. Johnson sent a separate signed letter to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in which he said a “further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our E.U. partners, and the relationship between us.”
And so is this.
Perhaps Boris should spend time more looking at who he is responsible to. Rather than grandstanding like a self-promoting dictatorial fool – or a Trump.
I’d have to say that, as someone who is thoroughly disinterested in British politics except in a very cursory way, that it is good to see a parliamentary system doing its job.