Tuesday 17 September 2019

Editorial: 'Johnson's 'nuclear' choice leaves us in path of fallout'

'Yesterday, Boris Johnson went straight for the red button. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
'Yesterday, Boris Johnson went straight for the red button. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters


Convention dictates a UK prime minister must first draft four letters before taking the nuclear option. The ritual demands a full briefing on all threats before various defence chiefs hand over the codes. But yesterday, Boris Johnson went straight for the red button.

By suspending parliament he has massively upped the ante in his fight with MPs trying to stop a no-deal Brexit.

It is a bold and arguably reckless step. He has cornered the opposition by squeezing the parliamentary timetable so tight they will now be forced into a frantic race against the clock to frame a law to block no deal.

The battle lines were always asymmetrical, but Mr Johnson's move guarantees that both sides are locked into a high-risk game in which there are no rules. In psychological warfare panic is easily weaponised. It is deeply contagious and impossible to control. An unstable situation has become more volatile. This is a very dangerous game.

The SDLP has accused him of acting like "a tin-pot dictator". Commons Speaker John Bercow described the move as a "constitutional outrage". To Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, it was a "smash and grab on democracy". By any reckoning by-passing parliament is a strange way to demonstrate one's democratic credentials.

Engineering a deliberate earthquake in the hope it will play out precisely as planned without doing irreplaceable damage to the political landscape is unprecedented.

Watching cascading events across the water it is difficult to contain a sense of dread.

Our Government's stated position is not to comment on events in another domain. Given how these events will impinge on all our futures, we can only hope there is furious engagement with the new realities nonetheless.

In shutting down parliament, Mr Johnson has gone straight for the jugular, to provoke a backlash.

There will be a set-to at Westminster which sooner rather than later will end in an election. This was always Mr Johnson's end game. Stuck with his majority of just one, he has seen how parliament made a political rag-doll of Theresa May.

With Labour in total disarray, his chances look more favourable than did those of his predecessor.

Ireland is now braced for the aftershocks. According to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, the Government will not change its position. But everything has changed.

Mr Donohoe said we would "stay out of the internal fray" in Britain. This is wishful thinking for we have no such luxury. Our country is in the direct path of the fallout clouds.

Mr Johnson is famously an admirer of Churchill who once supposedly volunteered: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

From the beginning Brexiteers trumpeted "taking back control" as their battle cry. Few imagined this could extend to taking parliament out of the picture. Mr Johnson's "conversation with the voter" could hardly be more anxiously anticipated.

Irish Independent

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