Singing, scuffles, and a "flying flamingo": The Parliament Show goes on hiatus

It’s had quite the season on television, but at least The Parliament Show’s finale left us with a real cliffhanger. The one cast member who already has decided not to return next season made the most of his swan song too, in between the scuffles and singing. Commons speaker John Bercow made his feelings clear about the extraordinarily lengthy prorogation of Parliament, calling it an “executive fiat,” shortly after other members tried to prevent him from leaving his chair and closing the session:


One of the longest sessions in the history of the British Parliament ended early Tuesday morning in extraordinary scenes, with protests from placard-waving lawmakers and attempts to prevent the Speaker of the House from leaving his chair.

Opposition members of the House of Commons were furious at the five-week prorogation of Parliament, which critics say is an attempt by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to silence debate on Brexit and allow the country to slide towards a no-deal split from the European Union. …

The arrival of Black Rod — Sarah Clarke, the first woman to hold the post — was met with a wall of noise from lawmakers opposed to prorogation. A group of opposition MPs then advanced towards the Speaker’s chair and a small scuffle broke out.

MPs crowded around Speaker John Bercow, who had announced his resignation earlier on Monday, holding signs reading “Silenced.”

Bercow played to the crowd at first, refusing to leave until after he gave an address, much of which is captured above. However, he did finally assent to the summons from Black Rod, but not after ridiculing Tory MPs for heckling his speech. At one point, he told one MP that he didn’t “give a flying flamingo” about the MP’s opinion on the matter.

All of this entertainment masked the big news of the day, which is that Boris Johnson’s election bit got foiled again. The PM had tried one last time to get elections before the October 31 Brexit deadline, only to find that his opposition and rebelling Tories remained united against the idea:


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a charred political landscape Tuesday morning that offers few viable options for achieving his “do or die” exit from the European Union, hours after Parliament crushed his dreams of an election that could clear the path to departure.

In a chaotic final session — marked by scenes of pandemonium in the wee hours of Tuesday — Johnson’s bid for a new vote was soundly defeated, continuing a remarkable streak in which the once-swaggering prime minister has lost every key vote of his young premiership.

What does that mean for Johnson and Brexit? The Washington Post misses the point:

The prime minister had hoped an election could restore the majority he lost last week through a combination of defections and ejections and give him a free hand to follow through on his promise to lead Britain out of the E.U. — even if there’s no deal with European leaders.

With that option off the table, analysts say Johnson’s best hope may be to strike a slightly improved deal with the E.U.

European leaders, however, appear in no mood to give ground, and Johnson may struggle to get any agreement passed in Parliament even if they do.

That assumes that Johnson wanted a deal from the EU. That may have been true, but only in the narrowest sense; Johnson would certainly welcome a deal on his terms, but otherwise Johnson’s made it clear he doesn’t think he needs a deal. The EU will not budge, however, especially since the current government can’t win a vote even in its own interests. At least when Theresa May was PM, there was a mathematical potential for passing an agreement in Parliament. Without that in Johnson’s minority government, what’s the point of negotiating at all? Thus does the UK have the need for elections, and soon.


For now, though, this suits Johnson’s purposes too. A no-deal Brexit is what he and his fellow Brexiters preferred over any agreement that forces them to deal with the EU on issues such as projected investments and financial commitments made pre-Brexit. They’re betting that a crash-out won’t be anywhere near as ugly as economists have predicted, even those in the May government. If they turn out to be correct, Johnson will win a large majority in the next election, which will allow him to negotiate the future trading and border relationship with the EU from a position of strength.

If it does turn out to be a disaster, though, Labour will clean up at the polls — and it may kick off independence in Scotland and reunification in Northern Ireland. Both of those might be unavoidable anyway, now that a crash-out looks inevitable. Maybe we can think of those as “spinoffs”?

By the way, The House of Lords Show will continue, apparently. It’s not quite as exciting and unpredictable as The Parliament Show, but if you like pomp, circumstance, and Norman French, have I got a show for you.


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