Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long been mocked by his political opponents as a bumbling, oafish joke better suited to the studios of comedic quiz shows and the after-dinner speaking circuit than deciding policy from 10 Downing Street.
As he positioned himself over the summer to replace outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, even some of his supporters expressed concern that the boisterous former foreign secretary would not actually follow through with his hardline stance on Britain’s departure from the E.U., and feared that he would crumble when the going got tough.
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But on Wednesday, those concerns from his allies were extinguished and those mocking opponents are no longer laughing as Johnson has shown himself dead serious about finally getting Brexit over the line — and that he is prepared to fight tooth and nail to get it done.
Johnson’s request that Queen Elizabeth II suspend parliament until a Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14 has infuriated the political opposition and led to talk of a constitutional crisis.
The suspension of Parliament in the weeks before a Queen’s Speech is a standard move in British parliamentary procedure as the government prepares for the formal announcement of the goals and intentions of the next legislative sessions. Johnson’s allies have noted that the current parliamentary session has lasted an unusually long three years, so to break now for a Queen’s Speech is not necessarily sinister. Johnson himself says it is necessary in order for the government to get on with its agenda.
“We’ve got to be bringing forward new and important bills and that’s why we are going to have a Queen’s Speech and we’re going to do it on October 14 and we’ve got to move ahead now with a new legislative program,” he said Wednesday.
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But the controversy here lies solely in the timing of the move. Britain is on track to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 and anti-Brexit lawmakers are working frantically to try and thwart the departure via the House of Commons — with plans in motion to try and pass legislation to tie the hands of Johnson’s government when Parliament returns from recess on Sept. 3.
Specifically, lawmakers are trying to ensure that Britain is not allowed to leave without a formal withdrawal agreement with the E.U., similar to the kind that May secured with E.U. leaders but failed to get through Parliament — leading ultimately to her resignation in June. Johnson has said he would prefer to leave with a deal, but is prepared to leave without one if E.U. leaders won’t meet British demands.
Opponents have warned that a no-deal Brexit could lead to chaos. A leaked Cabinet Office document from the summer, compiled under the code name Operation Yellowhammer, predicted food, fuel and medicine shortages, lengthy lines at ports of entry, a hard border with Ireland and soaring care costs. The government has said that that was before it stepped up no-deal preparations after Johnson took over.
But Tuesday’s announcement torpedoes those plans to tie the government’s hands, icing Parliament for the majority of the remainder of the time left before Oct. 31. Speaker John Bercow, who has made no secret of his anti-Brexit sympathies, called the move a “constitutional outrage.”
“However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country. At this time, one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, it is vital that our elected Parliament has its say. After all, we live in a parliamentary democracy.”
The move will almost certainly set up a no-confidence motion in the coming days in an effort to bring down the Johnson government entirely. Left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn this month floated bringing down the government via a no-confidence vote and installing himself as temporary prime minister as part of an anti-Brexit coalition.
Sky News reported that he requested a meeting with the Queen on Wednesday, and he issued a statement calling Johnson’s move “an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”
“Labour will work across Parliament to hold the government to account and prevent a disastrous No Deal,” he said.
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Johnson has a majority of just one in Parliament, so he has little room to maneuver if a no-confidence vote is called. Dominic Grieve, a Conservative MP but fiercely pro-Remain said he would support a confidence motion next week, according to the Times of London.
But Brexit supporters, having seen the departure delayed multiple times under May, were delighted at the new energy coming out of Downing Street. The pro-Brexit Guido Fawkes blog published a highlight reel of Johnson’s best moments – complete with a hi-octane soundtrack:
Meanwhile, President Trump weighed in from across the pond, predicting that Corbyn’s efforts would fail and that Johnson would be known as “a great one.”
“Would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to seek a no-confidence vote against New Prime Minister Boris Johnson, especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for, & will prove to be ‘a great one!'” he tweeted. “Love U.K.”
Fox News’ Nicole Darrah contributed to this report.