Winston Churchill’s grandson, who was expelled midweek from the Conservative party for voting to delay Brexit, launched Saturday a scathing attack on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who wrote a biography of his grandfather, saying he should stop comparing himself to Britain’s iconic wartime leader as he’s “nothing like” him.
“Winston Churchill was like Winston Churchill because of his experiences in life. Boris Johnson’s experience in life is telling a lot of porkies [lies] about the EU in Brussels and then becoming prime minister,” Nicholas Soames told Britain’s The Times newspaper.
Soames was among 21 Conservative rebels who were expelled from the party for voting to stop Johnson taking Britain out of the EU by October 31, something Johnson has pledged to do “no ifs or buts.”
In the interview, Soames, a former defense minister, said he could see no “helpful analogy” between his grandfather and Johnson. “I don’t think anyone has called Boris a diplomat or statesman. We all know the pluses and minuses, everyone he has worked for says the same thing: he writes beautifully [but he’s] deeply unreliable.”
Johnson’s Brexit options are shrinking fast. He has lost every single vote he’s brought as prime minister before the House of Commons in the face of a Conservative party split and the united efforts of the country’s opposition parties to thwart him.
On Monday party rebels again will join with opposition parties to block him from calling an election before they’ve ensured he can’t take Britain out of the European Union without a deal agreed upon with Brussels.
In effect, his opponents are trapping him in Downing Street as his hardline Brexit strategy appeared to be in tatters. Johnson now has no majority in the House of Commons, thanks to defections and the mass expulsion of party rebels.
Last week, his election bid was rebuffed when he failed to secure the backing of two-thirds of the Home of Commons. His second bid will get a similar dismissal, according to lawmakers and analysts. With his options limited, Johnson is now saying he will ignore legislation passed midweek requiring him to ask Brussels for a Brexit delay to allow further negotiations to take place between Britain and EU leaders.
The Conservative rebels and opposition parties argue that the economic impact of a so-called no-deal Brexit would be devastating for livelihoods and jobs.
Johnson also wrote to Conservative lawmakers on Friday, telling them: “They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.” He told reporters earlier he won’t comply and seek yet another deadline extension from Brussels, as the incoming law, which will receive the Queen’s assent on Monday, compels him to do, if no agreement with Brussels is in place by October 19.
Asked if he would obey the new law requiring him to write to EU leaders, Johnson responded: “I will not. I don’t want a delay.”
His defiance is prompting growing alarm that Britain’s political crisis is deepening and risks a tumultuous clash between the government and the courts, along with a rebellion by top civil servants and an even bigger split in Conservative ranks.
David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, warned Saturday it would set a “dangerous precedent,” if Johnson chose to break the law. “It is such a fundamental principle that we are governed by the rule of law that I hope no party would question it,” he told the BBC.
A former senior legal official went further, warning Johnson he risked being jailed, if he refuses to obey the law. Kenneth MacDonald, who was the country’s top prosecutor between 2003 and 2008, said if the courts were asked to issue an injunction ordering that “the law should be followed,” a refusal to obey “could find that person in prison.” He added that would not be “an extreme outcome” as it is “convention” that individuals who refuse to “purge their contempt” are sent to prison.
The warning was echoed by a former attorney general, Dominic Grieve, another Conservative rebel. If he refuses to obey the law he will be “sent to prison for contempt,” he said, while accusing Johnson of acting like a “spoiled child having a tantrum.” A former Supreme Court judge, Lord Sumption, told Sky News he doubted it would get as far as that because civil servants likely would rebel and refuse to co-operate with a prime minister who was willfully breaking the law.
Johnson broke off early on Saturday from a social visit with his partner, Carrie Symonds, to the Queen at the monarch’s Scottish residence, Balmoral, to plot his next moves. On his visit to Scotland, Johnson ramped up the pressure on opposition parties to agree to an early election, goading them by accusing them of cowardice. “I have never known an opposition in the history of democracy that has refused to have an election,” he said. “I think that obviously they don’t trust the people, they don’t think that the people will vote for them, so they are refusing to have an election.”
But Downing Street aides admit the unity of the opposition parties — as well as the size of the Conservative rebellion — had surprised Johnson and his chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, who miscalculated the reaction of the leader of the main opposition party, Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn.
“The plan was to use the threat of suspending parliament to force the rebels out into the open early,” an aide said. “We always knew they would try and force a Brexit delay on us. But the expectation was that Corbyn could be goaded into welcoming an election. That was a serious miscalculation on our part,“ he added.
The turbulence of the last week — which saw the British parliament break convention and initiate legislation — is unnerving the cabinet, too.
On Friday, some current cabinet ministers expressed major reservations about Johnson’s bellicose approach with much of the blame for the government’s lose of control being focused on the 47-year-old Dominic Cummings, a controversial figure who’s been compared to the former adviser to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, for his ‘slash-and-burn tactics.”
Cummings, the chief strategist for the Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum on EU membership, told government advisers Friday they should hold their nerve, saying if they thought last week was chaos, it was “only just the beginning.” Cummings has made no secret of his wish to rip up the map of British politics and re-draw it, starting with a populist remake of the Conservative party.
A former cabinet minister, David Gauke, one of the expelled Conservative rebels, said Johnson and Cummings want “to rebadge the Conservative party as the Brexit Party.”
“I can see nothing incompatible about being a Conservative MP and not wanting to crash the country into a brick wall, but it appears that it is no longer the case,” he said in a newspaper interview. The risk is that Johnson will end up alienating millions of pragmatically-inclined, traditional Conservative voters, he says.