Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: As DUP dials down rhetoric, expect Boris Johnson to stick to same Brexit script

Boris Johnson in New York after judges at the Supreme Court in London ruled his suspension of Parliament was unlawful (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Boris Johnson in New York after judges at the Supreme Court in London ruled his suspension of Parliament was unlawful (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP's critics had a field day in the wake of the Supreme Court's slapping down of Boris Johnson.

The words last month of (solicitor) Arlene Foster that the Prime Minister was "well within his rights" to suspend Parliament did the rounds on social media.

As her party kept an unusually low profile yesterday, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance said Boris' battering by the court seriously called into question the DUP's judgment.

Yet Mrs Foster was far from the only unionist with a legal background surprised by the Supreme Court ruling. Jim Allister was equally shocked, although from the get-go he had believed that Mr Johnson's approach to suspending Parliament was wrong.

The TUV leader had argued that the Prime Minister should have been straight about his reason for prorogation rather than dressing it up in Queen's Speech apparel.

The DUP was quick to stress that the Government must abide by the Supreme Court decision. It did not want to leave any doubt in the minds of its more moderate supporters who would be deeply discomfited at being on the wrong side of the law.

The DUP has very much dialled down its Brexit rhetoric in the past fortnight. Given the high stakes, that's unsurprising. Warnings of the dangers of no-deal from business suits can be dismissed as Project Fear.

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But when the voices raised against Brexit include that of DUP election broadcast farmer Charlie Weir, it's much more uncomfortable territory for the party. Yet whatever the challenges facing the DUP, they are nothing compared to those confronting their confidence-and-supply agreement partners.

Boris Johnson is now the lamest of lame duck Prime Ministers in modern British history. He has been totally boxed in by judges and MPs.

He has not been allowed to prorogue a Parliament which won't replace him or allow a general election.

The tactic of suspension has spectacularly backfired. After a de facto truce between the Tories and the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage yesterday branded it "the worst political decision ever" and called for the Prime Minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings to be sacked.

Many Tory MPs would also like his head on a plate but expect Mr Johnson today to stick to the same script as he delivered before prorogation.

He will repeat his demands for a general election. He will accuse the Opposition parties of spinelessness and gutlessness for blocking the chance of going to the polls. And don't underestimate how much that will strike a chord with ordinary punters across Britain.

There is something absurd in Labour and the Liberal Democrats branding BoJo unfit for office and demanding he resign, yet refusing a general election.

Johnson will argue that his opponents are scared that the people will vote the wrong way.

Neutered by MPs, he has to find a route to an election. The tabling of a second motion for a general election is surely imminent, although it is likely doomed to defeat.

Labour must also decide if it is prepared to sign up to a Government of national unity with the likes of Ken Clarke as Prime Minister. If Jeremy Corbyn made that call, it would be a game-changer, and Boris truly would be in deep trouble.

Belfast Telegraph


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