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Saturday 19 October 2019
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Commentary

Fireworks in the Commons

Dublin. I am writing this column faced with two hard-hitting forces in Britain – one artificial, the other natural. The artificial one comes from the fast and furious verbal fireworks in the British House of Commons; the natural one comes from an Atlantic-driven level 5 Hurricane Lorenzo, storming its way towards a frightened Ireland.

The Irish Independent carried this bold front-page headline: A perfect storm. The newspaper warned: “Storm Lorenzo is to hit Ireland tonight, lashing the country with 130km winds and nowhere can expect to escape its effects with fallen trees down anywhere.” Scary enough. And I shudder.

In the Commons, newly-installed British PM, the 55-year-old Boris Johnson, warned its population to finalise Brexit and get it over with, or else. (By a 52 per cent vs 48 per cent vote in 2016, Britain decided to leave the European Union, but now faces political difficulties in so doing. The outcome of the vote is described as Brexit.) The country continues to face uncertainty, heated political controversies and a possible general election next month. Or another referendum.

At the centre of Boris Johnson’s protracted struggles with EU headquarters in Brussels is the extent to which the border between Northern Ireland (British) and the southern Republic of Ireland will be a free-trade zone or a custom-regulated border. If by October 19, no final deal is worked out towards the EU’s October 31 deadline, Boris Johnson appears insistent on leaving the EU “without a deal.” Mobilising disgruntled fellow-conservatives, he had toppled former PM 63-year-old Theresa May on the premise that she was moving too slowly and reaching nowhere with a satisfactory deal. Nothing much different now. A senior minister threatened: “Deliver Brexit or else.”

Briefly, a deal is a tough call especially since Scotland did not support Brexit (38 per cent leave vs 62 per cent remain), neither did Northern Ireland (44 per cent leave vs 56 per cent remain) Wales and England voted leave. The Scottish First Minister, the feisty, sharp-tongued Nicola Sturgeon, promised to topple Boris with opposition help, and with the Scottish threat of independence looming. All this is part of the political fireworks across the United Kingdom, much noisily flowing from the hallowed Commons in London.

There is now an all-party gathering of conservative and opposition forces to remove Boris as PM through a vote of confidence and before he calls a general election. It’s now really a political mess, exposing the good, bad and ugly of British parliamentary democracy. The Times columnist Clare Foges stated: “The Conservative Party is now unpredictable, unbalanced, scornful of moderation; the party once respectful of Britain’s institutions now treats Parliament as inconvenience.” The Guardian columnist John Grace called Boris “the incredible sulk.” In turn, Boris in the Commons described opposition members as traitors, betraying the people, cowards and surrendering to Brussels.

Speaker John Bercow exclaimed: “I never experienced such behaviour. The culture was toxic.” What made Boris’ reputation worse is when the British Supreme Court ruled his prorogation of Parliament “unlawful,” forcing him to apologise to the Queen for misleading her. Speaker Bercow called it “a constitutional outrage,” The political mess got worse as the media across the UK had a field day with “BOJO.” Trust in Parliament and democracy has been eroded, said the Times’ editorial. The editorial moralised: “It was hard to imagine how the reputation of the House of Commons could sink any lower after the antics of MPs when Parliament was suspended two weeks ago.”

Times letter writer Catherine Clarke complained: “I was horrified by Boris Johnson’s behaviour in Parliament. His inflammatory language was designed to stoke up division. It was an affront to hear him dismiss the fear of MPs who received death threats with the word ‘humbug.'”

Bad enough, but Boris also faces “woman problems” outside the Commons. Two women so far have complained about his inappropriate touching. He now poses with a new partner, Carrie Symonds. There is an investigation into his financial and courtship dalliances with a former pole-dancer, Jennifer Acuri, when he was mayor of London.

Storm Lorenzo will soon end. But political fireworks over Brexit will not. So inside and outside the once-revered British House of Commons there are fireworks of all kinds. Let’s hope our own political traditions and parliamentary standards of conduct are worthy of emulation.

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