European newspapers are unequivocal about the severity of the blow the UK’s Supreme Court dealt Prime Minister Boris Johnson with its unanimous verdict that he had acted illegally in proroguing parliament.
Despite calls for his resignation, few pundits expect him to go, noting the apparent lack of contrition on his part.
Instead, several believe Mr Johnson will simply add the Court to his populist campaign against a purported “elite”. There is little expectation the ruling will help resolve the Brexit deadlock.
‘A robust rebuke’
The word “humiliation” is used in many commentaries about the Supreme Court ruling.
It is Mr Johnson’s “biggest humiliation”, says the Irish Times.
“It’s a landmark decision – a powerful assertion of parliamentary sovereignty and a robust rebuke to those who might trample on it,” the paper says.
“The implication… is self-evident: Johnson lied to the public about his reasons for suspending parliament, and his advice to the Queen to do so was unlawful.”
The Irish Examiner calls it “an evisceration of Johnson’s government and its handling of Brexit”.
“The Supreme Court in the UK doesn’t trust Boris Johnson – neither should the Irish government,” says a commentator in the Irish Independent.
“Neither Mr Johnson nor his cabinet are serious people. They are charlatans and self-promoters who can only be relied upon to act disreputably… They have contributed precisely nothing to the Brexit negotiations, except bluster, bombast, prevarication and lies.”
“The only chink of light for the Irish government from this mess is that the wretched state of the British government has underlined that its policy, of getting a clear legal guarantee on the Border, was the correct approach all along,” it concludes.
‘Tremendously thick skin’
“It is a complete defeat for Downing Street, leaving no room for excuses or late explanations. Johnson does not even try it,” says Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding “Johnson must have a tremendously thick skin.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine agrees, noting in a headline that Mr Johnson – a few hours behind the UK in New York when the news broke – “did not spoil his breakfast”. “He neither apologised for having given the Queen a piece of now illegal advice, nor was he contrite,” the paper says.
There is some discussion of the checks and balances in Britain’s governance.
The prorogation row shows that the unwritten British Constitution’s “amenability to continuous adaptation, once a strength, is now a fundamental weakness,” says an article in Italy’s Corriere della Sera.
On the other hand, Supreme Court President Lady Brenda Hale has become “the embodiment of British democracy”, says France’s Le Monde.
One writer in Italy’s Il Foglio is impressed not only by her “statement brooch”, but her “returning a divided Britain to normality… the EU divorce may have engulfed almost everything, but not the rule of law and the balance of power”.
‘Never lie to the Queen!’
Others also note the consequences of involving the monarch in the illegal prorogation.
Mr Johnson “may fall over a mortal sin that exists only in England: Never lie to the Queen!” says German daily Taggesspiegel. “This is a political ‘no-go’ in the UK,” adds the popular tabloid Bild.
Some commentators believe the ruling leaves the prime minister little option.
“He is incapable of remaining prime minister. This is the almost unanimous voice of the UK opposition, including the defectors from Johnson’s own party,” says Croatia’s Novi List.
“Johnson has to resign as soon as possible and make way for a Conservative leader able to have dialogue,” says Spain’s El Mundo.
But while many agree that Boris Johnson’s personal prospects are likely to suffer, few expect him not to try to turn the situation to his advantage – even if there is little prospect of moving towards a resolution to Brexit.
‘He can frame the snap election’
The ruling “is a disgrace of an extraordinary category… but not inconvenient to Johnson,” says the Dutch NRC Handelsblad.
“He already wanted to wage a populist election campaign anyway… The court verdict could be additional evidence that the elite, in this case the British judges, want to thwart the will of the people,” it says.
A commentary in the Belgian financial paper De Tijd agrees: “Johnson is already ruling out tendering his resignation… he also suggested again that he may well ignore a law that forces a Brexit postponement on him… This way, he can frame a snap election – which is pretty much inevitable this winter – as a clash of ‘people versus parliament’. And, since Tuesday, versus the Court as well.”
“The most likely scenario now seems to be a vote of no confidence against the government once Parliament reconvenes. This would lead to a general election and, therefore, postpone the date of the UK’s withdrawal,” says France’s Libération.
It also notes, however, that British prime ministers “have all been affected by a syndrome: that of repeating the same sentences in a loop, without managing to resolve Brexit, for all the drama”.
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