In Depth

Brexit chaos: what the rest of the world is saying

Foreign critics say ‘Boris the Menace’ is setting dangerous precedent that threatens democracy

Westminster has descended into chaos over the past week, with MPs holding signs that read “silenced” protesting in the House of Commons early on Tuesday following the suspension of Parliament.

The shutdown came after Boris Johnson suffered his sixth parliamentary defeat in as many days, with MPs voting to block a snap election and no-deal Brexit and to make No. 10 publish the Government’s secret plans for crashing out of the EU without an agreement.

The prime minister has dismissed as “nonsense” claims that his decision to prorogue Parliament until 14 October is undemocratic. 

But what does the rest of the world think about the ongoing political carnage?

Donald Trump jumped to Johnson’s defence last week as the PM battled in the Commons, reports Politico.

“Boris is a friend of mine and he’s going at it, there’s no question about it,” the US president told reporters in the Oval Office last Wednesday. “I watched him this morning, he’s in there fighting and he knows how to win. Boris knows how to win. Don’t worry about him, he’s going to be OK.”

But a week later, The New York Times doesn’t seem so sure, describing Johnson’s first days at Downing Street as “one of the most abysmal starts any British leader has ever endured”.

The newspaper says that Monday was a “day of defeat” for the “bare-knuckled new prime minister”, although “it was just another day in the new Britain, which has been bitterly divided since voters narrowly voted in favor of parting company with the European Union in a 2016 referendum”.

The Times continues: “It seemed clear that if Mr Johnson had thought he could outfox Parliament by suspending it, sidelining lawmakers at a critical moment in the Brexit debate, he was the one who had been outmanoeuvred.”

However, Sebastian Seibt at France 24 argues that Johnson’s apparent “failure after failure” makes sense through the lense of “game theory” - a branch of mathematics which looks at how to design a winning game plan that takes into account the competing strategies of other players.

Seibt says the British PM is preparing to invite European negotiators to a game of “poule mouillee”, which translates as wimp or sissy. This view is backed by Soren Schwuchow, a game theory expert from the Brandenburg Technological University in Cottbus, who believes Johnson is betting on the EU backing down first because the bloc thinks he is crazy enough to crash out without a deal.

Whatever Johnson’s strategy, a front-page editorial titled “Boris the Menace” in conservative French daily Le Figaro warns that “the prime minister’s bad manners create a dangerous precedent” for British democracy, “revealing the vulnerabilities of the system”.

And Deutsche Welle (DW) points out that the move would be “unthinkable” in Germany. Christoph Gusy, professor of constitutional history at the country’s University of Bielefeld, tells the newspaper that Germany’s equivalent of the Commons “controls the government, and not the other way round”.

The German Basic Law - signed in 1949 with the aim of preventing any future dictators coming to power - ensures there is no period without a parliament in place.

“What Johnson is doing in the UK would turn the constitutional relationship in Germany completely upside down,” Gusy told DW.

Samantha Hawley of Australia’s ABC News network sees only one way out: “A restart button needs pushing.”

For three years, Brexit has “plunged the British Parliament into crisis, providing a stalemate that no leader appears capable of solving”, she says. “For that reason, regardless of the way it comes about, it’s almost certain the people of the United Kingdom will need to go back to the polls.”

However, Hawley notes that given the volatility of the political environment, few commentators will be willing to predict the outcome of such a vote.

“They won’t rule out another hung parliament that would plunge the nation back into the same quagmire it’s already in,” she concludes.

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