The speaker’s announcement temporarily put the prime minister in check. Unable to bring her bill up for a vote last week, she had no choice but to go to Brussels and beg the European Union to give her more time. But then, in an unprecedented step, the prime minister pulled a page from the U.S. presidential playbook: She made a direct televised address to the British public, proclaiming to them that “I am on your side” in the face of parliamentary determination to thwart the will of the public by not allowing her deal to be voted through. The address was a rebuke of Bercow and of those in her own coalition and in the opposition who had not come on board with her plan. It was also a remarkable effort by the British executive to harness the power of public opinion to break parliamentary opposition.
Such a move no doubt sounds unremarkable to Americans. Over the course of the 20th century, such appeals have become a prominent strategy in U.S. presidential politics. Franklin Roosevelt regularly went on radio to ask the American people for their support for his experimental programs. Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon regularly appeared on television to rally support for their Vietnam policies. Donald Trump most recently resorted to such a tactic on Jan. 8, when he addressed the American people about the need for a border wall to confront the “national crisis” at the Mexican border.
In Britain, however, such things are just not done.