The Guardian view on general election calls: stay and finish the Brexit job
Boris Johnson wants to
get rid of this House of Commons because it stands in the way of an even harder
Brexit than he is letting on
Oliver Cromwell’s speech attacking the Long Parliament in
1653 has gone down in history. “You have sat too long here for any good you
have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of
God, go.” At more recent moments in Britain’s past, Cromwell’s words have been
called into service once again by later generations, most famously by Leo Amery
in the 1940 Norway debate in a speech attacking Neville Chamberlain’s handling
of the war with Germany, which ended with those selfsame Cromwellian phrases
and which helped trigger Winston Churchill’s arrival in Downing Street three
It is more than possible that Boris Johnson, a tinpot
Churchill now auditioning to be a tinpot Cromwell, may invoke those words yet
again when he calls for a general election in the House of Commons on Monday.
Last Friday, Mr Johnson summoned his inner Cromwell and told the BBC that the
British people must be “released from subjection to a parliament that has
outlived its usefulness”. In a parallel briefing, No 10 was even more blunt,
telling reporters: “If parliament refuses to allow Brexit and refuses to allow
an election, then what’s the point of parliament?”
Well, here’s the point of parliament. And here’s the point
of this one. The Long Parliament had sat for 13 years when Cromwell called for
it to go. The current parliament has not yet sat for two and a half, which is less
than half of its term. It is not even close to outliving its usefulness.
Contrary to Downing Street’s lies, this parliament does not refuse to allow
Brexit. Indeed it voted for Brexit only last week in the shape of the
withdrawal agreement bill. But this parliament does not want Britain to be
bundled out of the EU with no deal or on terms that threaten jobs, the economy,
peace in Northern Ireland or the union with Scotland. This government does not
care about any of these things.
This parliament should absolutely refuse to be bullied out
of existence, least of all by such a government. It should be clear, as this
newspaper is clear, that Mr Johnson’s sole aim is to achieve a Conservative
majority that would scrap all of this parliament’s hard-won efforts to soften
Brexit and would replace them with a deregulatory wilderness that would be
catastrophic for our people. This parliament must stay in place to stop this.
As so often, the truth is the opposite of what Mr Johnson
says. This parliament, elected in 2017 when Theresa May tried – and failed – to
get a large majority for her hard-Brexit terms, has plenty of usefulness left
in its tank. This parliament has had to develop a uniquely detailed knowledge
of the issues and implications involved in Brexit. This parliament has learned
that it is now facing a double-dealing administration led by a prime minister
whose word cannot be trusted. This parliament is therefore supremely well
qualified to decide on the subject. The point of this parliament is that this
is absolutely not the time for a parliament of novices, over whose eyes the
wool could be pulled more easily.
Last week, parliament voted for the withdrawal bill and
called for more time to scrutinise it. Mr Johnson refused. Since then, it has
become clear why he did so. Last Tuesday he told Labour MPs who were
considering voting for the bill that “there can be no regression” from existing
employment rights after Brexit. This was untrue. Last week ministers were given
a Brexit department paper which says Britain is open to “significant
divergence” on regulatory provisions and workers’ rights. In other words, the
reason Mr Johnson wants this parliament out of the way is so he can deliver a
Brexit that weakens rights and regulations more than he is letting on.
Britain has no need of an early general election. It needs
to get this phase of Brexit sorted first. This parliament was elected to do
that. It is the fault of the May and Johnson governments, not of parliament,
that it has been so difficult. Mr Johnson’s intemperate goading undoubtedly
make things worse. But it is the point of parliament to keep him in check. MPs
are making a good job of that. If the ghost of parliaments past could join
Monday’s debate it might even say to them: In the name of God, stay, and finish
Don’t let the drama
of an election distract us from the billions wasted on Brexit
Gaby Hinsliff* – The Guardian
Showman Johnson hopes
his EU humiliation and the £8.3bn squandered on no-deal plans will be
forgotten. It must not be
If you really want to know how a magic trick is done, then
stop looking where the magician wants you to look.
Ignore the spectacle and the theatre, designed to distract
the audience; don’t listen to the patter, but watch what the hands are doing.
And what is true for magicians is doubly so for politicians. Boris Johnson has
the nation focused on the drama of a Christmas election rather than on this
week’s humiliation over Brexit, but we should have learned by now to look at
what the government is doing rather than what the great showman is saying.
All the overblown rhetoric about dying in a ditch rather
than delaying any longer, and the chest-beating about having some secret plan
to avoid asking the EU for an extension, have been exposed for the empty nonsense
they were. We are not Brexiting on Thursday after all; and hot on the heels of
the overwhelming relief most Britons will feel about avoiding a no-deal
crashout comes a white-hot blast of rage at the time, money and energy so
senselessly wasted over the last three years.
Johnson once, unforgivably, described £60m spent on
inquiring into historic child abuse as money “spaffed up the wall”. So how on
earth can he defend successive Tory governments blowing about £8.3bn of public
money, and much of Whitehall’s collective brainpower, on Operation Yellowhammer
– the no-deal emergency planning operation that lent credibility to what now
look like empty threats to leave come what may?
And while it’s galling enough to imagine what else the
nation could have done with those billions, that is barely the half of it.
Think of all the stockpiling and worrying and understandable stalling of
investment plans that businesses have done over years of being constantly
nagged to “get ready” for Brexit – without ever knowing what exactly what they
should be ready for. Think of all the people not hired, the expansion plans put
on ice, the pay rises denied because cash had to be saved for contingencies.
Think too of all the life plans put on hold by couples
worried that this isn’t a good time to start a family or move house, and the
anxiety gnawing away beneath the surface of so many lives. And for what,
exactly? Was any of it real, or have we all simply been pawns in a bigger game,
marched up the hill and down again to lend credibility to a negotiating
strategy based on threatening no deal in order to secure a deal?
There certainly are Tories deluded enough to think a no-deal
Brexit is a price worth paying for their fantasy, but the evidence suggests
that the prime minister isn’t one of them. He always said he would prefer a
deal, ripped up his own negotiating red lines to produce one, and is probably
triggering an election now, at least in part, to avoid too much parliamentary
scrutiny of the difference between what he promised and what his Brexit deal
delivered. (If you wouldn’t buy a secondhand car from someone who refused to
open the bonnet, then don’t buy a Brexit bill from someone who threatens a snap
election the minute MPs start kicking its tyres.)
Putting Operation Yellowhammer on ice merely confirms the
political reality, which is that the prime minister’s bluster is no longer
particularly credible either in Brussels or at home; and that in truth we have
wasted untold national opportunities in pursuit of the magic beans that Vote
Leave promised, only to be presented at the last minute with an opportunity to
make ourselves poorer. No wonder the prime minister would rather we were all
looking the other way. But there may be only so any times this particular
Houdini can escape from a straitjacket of his own making.