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Boris Johnson sparked uproar during angry exchanges in the House of Commons after he was dragged back to Parliament to explain why he broke the law and tried to suspend the legislature in the run-up to Brexit.
The defiant premier refused to resign or even apologize. Instead, Johnson came out fighting. He challenged his political opponents to trigger an election through a no-confidence vote, and accused them of cowardice for twice rejecting one. He also declared that the Supreme Court judges who overturned his decision to suspend Parliament were simply “wrong.”
“This Parliament must either stand aside and let this government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face a day of reckoning with the voters,” Johnson told a noisy House of Commons on Wednesday.
Asked if he had any remorse for his actions, Johnson replied: “The straight answer to that is ‘No.’” He also repeatedly called legislation passed by his opponents seeking to stave off a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 as a “surrender bill.”
His language drew criticism from MPs in the chamber. Labour’s Paula Sherriff demanded the premier stop using “pejorative” and “dangerous” terms that she said incited violence and death threats against lawmakers.
She pointed to the plaque behind her for Jo Cox, the pro-Remain Labour MP murdered during the 2016 Brexit referendum. Johnson replied: “I have never heard so much humbug in all my life,” triggering cries of “shame” and “disgusting” in the chamber and anger from Cox’s widower.
Sherriff’s colleague Anna McMorrin said Johnson’s behavior and choice of words were affecting people around the country, leading to an increase in abuse on social media.
Afterward, criticism was widespread, including from some members of Johnson’s party. Even Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan weighed in, saying on Twitter that “at a time of strong feelings we all need to remind ourselves of the effect of everything we say on those watching us.”
Nevertheless, in the heated atmosphere inside the chamber, the premier’s belligerent approach seemed initially to bolster his own position as head of the ruling Conservative Party. Tory members burst into applause and cried “more” after he attacked the opposition Labour Party.
But the impact on Britain’s tortured three-year divorce from the European Union is less clear.
As things stand, Brexit remains deadlocked in London. Without a majority in Parliament, Johnson cannot get a deal through a vote, or win authorization for leaving the EU without a deal, or trigger the early election he wants.
Britain is due to leave the bloc of 28 countries on Oct. 31. Johnson said he’s making progress toward a deal, saying in an ITV interview that the most contentious part governing border arrangements with Ireland was “now under serious negotiation.”
Nevertheless, the premier has doubled down on a vow to complete the split on time, even if that means doing so without an agreement to soften the impact.
Most members of Parliament disagree with this approach and have passed a law aimed at stopping the premier forcing the U.K. out of the bloc without a deal. But Johnson insists he will go ahead anyway and expects to fight for his strategy in court yet again next month.
Parliament’s Return, Tactics
In a highly contentious decision, Johnson told Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament for five weeks earlier this month. His critics argued this was an attempt to thwart them in their efforts to restrain him.
But in a crushing defeat for Johnson, the Supreme Court in London ruled Tuesday that this suspension of the legislature was not lawful and amounted to a severe blow to Britain’s democracy. The judges ordered that members of Parliament return to work immediately.
How Brexit Has Unleashed a U.K. Constitutional Crisis: QuickTake
On Wednesday, as MPs regrouped in Westminster to plot their tactics again, Johnson refused to give an inch of ground.
“I think the court was wrong to pronounce on what is essentially a political question at a time of great national controversy,” Johnson said.
In other developments as Parliament resumed scrutiny of the government:
Some Tories turned their fire on Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide, saying he should lose his job for his role in the suspension of Parliament; Johnson told ITV that “of course” Cummings has his full confidence.Attorney General Geoffrey Cox stirred controversy, calling the current Parliament “dead,” suggesting the government is looking for wriggle room in the law seeking to rule out a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 and saying that in future, politicians could vet judges. The latter point, Johnson told ITV, is “jumping a long way down the track.”Johnson’s office said the Conservative Party conference will go ahead as planned Sept. 29-Oct. 2, and that Johnson will deliver a speech there, even if opposition parties don’t agree to a Parliament recess.The European Commission briefed national diplomats that the U.K.’s latest ideas for the post-Brexit Irish border aren’t acceptable. In New York, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called Britain’s proposals “fanciful.”
(Updates with Morgan comment in eighth paragraph.)
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