The Brexit dead-end has long dominated mass media front covers, ever since Theresa May’s failed attempt to deliver it and Boris Johnson’s takeover to finally do it, but what takes prime coverage today is something more personalised – the prime minister’s failed bid to call a general election, which Johnson threatened after the Tories appeared rather far from unanimous vis-à-vis the no-deal Brexit option.
Most British newspapers have referred to the emotional aspect of Johnson’s defeat in Westminster yesterday, dubbing him a “cornered” politician, while some put special emphasis on Labour head Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to back the prime minister.
“Cornered Johnson suffers triple Commons defeat”, The Guardian wrote adding he was thwarted “three times in the House of Commons”. The outlet noted that the attempt by opposition parties and Tory rebels to block a no-deal Brexit “cleared its second and third readings” proceeding to the latest “defeat” - a failed attempt to call a snap election.
The Guardian front page, Thursday 5 September 2019: Cornered Johnson suffers triple Commons defeat pic.twitter.com/4Rw5SqwTkd— The Guardian (@guardian) September 4, 2019
The FT, the I and a number of other newspaper editions referred to the defeat yesterday in a similar fashion:
“Johnson backed into corner as Commons delivers double blow”, reads the FT’s front cover headline, with the article summing up the prime minister’s “humbling double defeat”.
Another quality press edition, The Times, refers to yesterday’s Westminster vote as “another bruising day” arguing the premier “faces an increasingly desperate battle to force a general election”.
The tabloids - no big fans of Johnson – opted for a more straightforward way of delivering the story:
The Mirror, for instance, lambasted the prime minister as “Britain’s worst (since the last one)” with the latter part being illustrated by an inset picture of Theresa May. “The only PM ever to lose his first three Commons votes as MPs vetoed his risky no-deal strategy”, the report states in black and white, while the Metro chose to be more laconic:
“He just can’t win”, they put on the newspaper cover, sporting a picture of a raving and storming Johnson.
Meanwhile, quite a few media outlets have focused on a different persona, no less prominent in the recent debates – Jeremy Corbyn: while The Telegraph lambasts the Labour leader as a “hypocrite” that “rejects election to break deadlock”, the article title has it, referring to the discrepancy between his yesterday’s stance and earlier support for a snap election on 15 October.
Johnson’s vivid portrayal of Corbyn as a “chicken” is recurrent in most media, with the Mail going for the PUN as it says:
“Corbyn chickens out of an election”, before explaining:
“The Labour leader, who has repeatedly demanded a poll, said he would not support one until a law delaying Brexit yet again had passed through Parliament”. The Sun didn’t stop at that and attempted to visualise the allegory, photoshopping Corbyn’s head with a quirky expression on his face onto a chicken’s body.
“Is THIS the most dangerous chicken in Britain?” The Sun’s front cover reads, with the text stinging the Labour leader: “Corbyn clucks up Brexit”.
European press beyond Britain appear to be less satirical, but rather menacing and focusing on the murky side of Johnson’s failed bid, which Italy’s Corriere della Sera referred to as a “kamikaze strategy”. “Brussels will not give up, so Britain continues to run towards the cliff edge”, the paper said, descriptively likening Johnson to “a boxer in the corner” who “risks dragging all Britain to the mat”.
Others, like Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung suggested the recent developments pose more questions than answers:
“How he and his advisers will react, whether he still has an ace up his sleeve, what he will do in the coming days, whether he will try to unblock things with a motion of no confidence in himself – nothing is certain”, the paper said.
Belgium’s Le Soir has the same rhetoric, with the paper writing Britain is “in uncharted waters”.
Johnson had been “checkmated by Parliament and is without a majority”, the paper said. “Now he has been refused the early elections that he demanded. The future of Brexit – and of the country – has never been more uncertain”.
According to Le Monde, the prime minister is no longer in control of his Brexit strategy, “the calendar and even of his own camp” stressing it is in a deeply rooted crisis. France’s Liberation, meanwhile, elaborated on the topic from the moral-ethical point of view, suggesting one of the numerous problems Johnson has woken up to is “the mistrust he inspires” – “in the opposition parties, which is not unusual, but also in his own MPs”, the broadsheet wrote, adding:
“If he were to win a 15 October election, all now fear he might repeal or otherwise get round the new law, and trigger a no-deal Brexit”.
Nonetheless, a few outlets argued time hadn’t yet come to write Johnson off. Die Welt noted that Johnson’s opponents may not benefit from his current “100% failure rate”. The edition outlined Labour’s hope to cash in on Johnson’s undelivered promise to fulfil Brexit “or die”, which will supposedly deprive him of trust, and hence votes.
However, the premier’s opponents, Die Welt noted, “can’t rely on that”. “His election platform will be a brutal anti-EU campaign with a clear no-deal promise. And faced with a devoted right-wing media, growing voter frustration and an opposition that still does not know which Brexit it wants, his prospects for success are very good”, the German daily reported.
Dutch outlet De Volkskrant stated, meanwhile, that a propos Johnson’s position, with the no deal scenario dismissed and no election called, the prime minister is “stuck, just like Theresa may before him”.
The House of Commons rejected Boris Johnson’s snap election proposal on Wednesday night, approving a so-dubbed Benn Bill, stipulating that Britain can’t withdraw from the European Union on 31 October, as was previously agreed, without drafting a deal with Brussels. Johnson referred to the move as a “betrayal of voters”.
On Tuesday, UK lawmakers demanded that they take full-fledged control of the government’s agenda after opposition MPs announced they had prepared the aforementioned bill for a vote. In the middle of Johnson’s emotional speech, one Tory MP, Phillip Lee, rebelled, defecting to the Liberal Democrats, which meant that the Tories no longer hold a majority in the Commons.