You are here

Tories try to seize offensive as British Parliament resumes

Debate soon reached a high volume and harsh tone, even by raucous standards of the House of Commons


BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government tried to seize the offensive as the House of Commons resumed business on Wednesday, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Johnson's suspension of Parliament was unlawful.

It took only minutes for the debate to reach a high volume and harsh tone, even by the barbed, raucous standards of the House of Commons. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, the government's chief lawyer, berated the opposition, his rumbling baritone growing steadily louder.

"This Parliament is a dead Parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no right to sit in these green benches," he thundered. "This Parliament is a disgrace." He accused the opposition of fearing both an election and the prospect of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as prime minister.

Market voices on:

The only moral thing for the opposition to do is to seek an election, but instead it does nothing but obstruct, he said, adding that a motion for a general election will be brought to Parliament.

"The time is coming when even these turkeys won't be able to prevent Christmas," he added. That drew a furious response from Barry Sheerman, a Labour lawmaker. "This government cynically manipulated the prorogation to shut down the house so that it couldn't work as a democratic assembly," Mr Sheerman said.

Shouting and pointing across the chamber at Mr Cox and the Conservative benches, he added: "For a man like him, a party like this, a leader like this, this prime minister, to talk about morals and morality is a disgrace."

It may have been just a taste of combative days to come. Britain's Parliament had gathered for a sudden, unexpected return, rejoining the chaotic battle over Brexit after the landmark court ruling.

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision on Tuesday left lawmakers, who had not expected to reconvene until mid-October, scrambling to return. Mr Johnson cut short a trip to the UN General Assembly in New York City, flying back to face a defiant Parliament, a looming Brexit deadline and a new threat of scandal over government funds directed to a woman whom he was close to.

The Sunday Times of London reported last weekend that Mr Johnson helped direct tens of thousands of pounds in government money to Jennifer Arcuri, a fledgling American entrepreneur and close friend whose apartment he often visited during working hours.

Mr Johnson has vowed to deliver Brexit as scheduled on Oct 31, even if he has not struck a deal with the European Union on Britain's withdrawal by then. Parliament has voted, over his strenuous objections, to prohibit leaving without an agreement, which economists said would be economically damaging.

As soon as the House of Commons convened on Wednesday, opposition lawmakers demanded that the government release the legal advice that Mr Cox had given to Mr Johnson about suspending Parliament.

Mr Cox said he could not reveal anything yet, but the government would consider "whether the public interest might require a greater disclosure".

For now, opposition leaders want to leave Mr Johnson in place - a wounded, enticing target they think they can weaken. In particular, Labour wants to force him to do the one thing that he has vowed not to: go to Brussels and ask to postpone Brexit beyond Oct 31, at least until January 2020.

For the Conservatives, the timing may be especially unlucky. In Britain, the annual political party conferences are an important forum for proclaiming platforms, rallying the faithful and hashing out differences. But it is not clear when Mr Johnson's Conservative Party will get the chance. NYTIMES