Thursday 19 September 2019

Editorial: 'Johnson's Shock and awe stirs resistance into action'

Former Conservative MP Phillip Lee (C) sitting next to Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Former Conservative MP Phillip Lee (C) sitting next to Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson. Photo: AFP/Getty Images


If history is about keeping score, looking back at what happened in Westminster to Boris Johnson yesterday will not be marked down as his finest hour.

Losing your majority on the first day of term is never a good result. Mr Johnson's shock and awe tactics have stirred a sense of resolve in the opposition and conviction in the rebels within his own ranks.

If every revolt requires a moment of awakening Mr Johnson provided the shrill reveille with his proroguing of Parliament. This, followed by his threat to deselect MPs, redefined the rules. In American politics they say you can't fall off the floor. Those with nothing to lose strike back.

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The records will show it was Conservative MP Phillip Lee's defection that cost Mr Johnson his majority of one. In truth, the decision to put Parliament in cold storage for five weeks was the deciding factor. Dr Lee accused the prime minister of "pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways", putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

Insisting on maintaining the threat of a no deal was always a dangerous gambit. There was no majority in the house to support it.

You cannot coerce partners into agreement. Mr Johnson's rigid terms on the backstop and Withdrawal Agreement made a no deal and its terrible consequences inevitable. But Parliament would not be cornered and a backlash was entirely predictable. The words 'taking back control' will be ringing in the prime minister's head like a bullet that has ricocheted.

In the midst of the unprecedented political meltdown precipitated by what was a unilateral British decision to divorce from the EU, it was quite remarkable to hear this country being called on to show more understanding and be more forthright in its dealings with the UK.

For the call to come from an American vice president, on a friendly visit to this island, was all the more surprising. Ireland has never acted in anything but good faith. And as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pointed out to Mr Pence: "This is not a problem of our making." Blame is not the issue.

Mr Johnson has dismissed efforts to avoid a no deal as "Jeremy Corbyn's surrender bill". But this too is self-serving.

The Labour leader, having tripped over himself throughout this crisis, has finally stumbled upon the right thing to do. A US president from another era, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, put it well: "He serves his party best who serves his country best."

Hopefully the Brexit drama is approaching its final act. There will be more showdowns and it will continue to convulse and divide unless the UK parliament can find common purpose to impose definition and direction.

It is crucial to remember agreement is not the absence of conflict but the presence of a desire to pursue creative alternatives for responding to conflict. We still await such alternatives.

Confusing movement with action has gone on for long enough. Threats to walk away with the menace of chaos thrown in for good measure are no way to prepare for fruitful future relationships.

Irish Independent

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