European media had few words harsh enough for a British prime minister they portrayed as unscrupulous, autocratic and dishonest – and few warm enough for the judges whose defence of British parliamentary democracy had brought him low.
Germany’s Die Zeit said the supreme court’s ruling that Boris Johnson’s five-week suspension of parliament was unlawful was “devastating” for the prime minister. In fact, it said, “all that is left for him is to resign. Unfortunately, he has repeatedly shown over the past few months that law and order are of little interest to him.”
There may never have been a British prime minister who has sought to overrule the primacy of parliament like Johnson, the paper said, “a prime minister who has lied to the people, parliament and the crown, and abuses his power without a care”.
Johnson is simply “not the right person to lead Britain in such a major crisis”, it concluded. “If Brexit is not done legally and in accordance with the constitution, Britain will never find peace. The people must now decide what they want, either in the form of new elections or a second referendum.”
Die Welt said the judges’ decision had “erupted like a volcano”. Johnson, defeated multiple times in parliament, had now lost, heavily, before the law. “One wonders whether and how he can continue, at the head of a minority government and discredited by the supreme court,” it said.
Handelsblatt said the judges’ verdict was “crushing, and unanimous”. The court’s reasoning was laid out with “incorruptible, merciless logic and in the end, its verdict seemed inevitable – and the government’s argument was pulverised”.
Above and beyond the consequences for Johnson and Brexit, the ruling showed Britain needs a written constitution. “Otherwise unscrupulous leaders like Johnson can abuse it anytime. Parliament must be able to decide for itself when it meets.”
In a stinging editorial, the Irish Times said a central plank of Johnson’s “carefully cultivated self-image” had always been the claim that “behind the buffoonish exterior was a skilful, serious-minded tactician … But in just two months in Downing St, that illusion has unravelled. Johnson, it is painfully clear, is winging it.”
The paper said the ruling was his “biggest humiliation of all”. The judges had “broken new constitutional ground” with their “powerful assertion of parliamentary sovereignty and robust rebuke to those who trample on it”, and their decision had left Johnson “backed into a corner, his options narrowing and his time running out.”.
In France, Le Monde said the word “historic” was no exaggeration: “The supreme court has taken a decision that will stay long in the annals of British politics,” it said. Certainly, the ruling was “a monumental blow to Boris Johnson, whose authority now seems seriously weakened”.
But beyond that, in a country without a written constitution, the court’s 11 judges “made history by considerably reinforcing British parliamentary democracy, and defining very clearly the balance of powers between parliament and government”.
The paper said the decision made the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October even more unlikely. “How, after such a heavy judicial defeat, could Johnson defy the law obliging him to seek a delay if there is no agreement with Brussels by 18 October?”
Libération said the most likely scenario now was probably “a vote of no confidence leading to fresh elections and, of course, to a new Brexit delay”. Johnson, however, is still insisting that the UK “will leave the EU on 31 October, come what may”.
British prime ministers, the paper said, “have all, these past three years, been afflicted with the same syndrome: that of endlessly repeating the same empty phrases without ever resolving Brexit – whose outcome, despite all the political drama, has still not been found.”
Spain’s El País said in an editorial an “autocratic and populist ruler” had been severely admonished for attacking parliamentary democracy. The 11 supreme court judges had done “great service to the cause of democracy, far beyond the borders of their small Atlantic island”, it said.
In the Netherlands, De Volkskrant said “few had expected such a unanimous and harsh judgement, which was hailed as a victory for the rule of law”. Johnson and his top adviser, Dominic Cummings, had been reminded in no uncertain terms by 11 judges that their “people versus the established order” strategy “may work for a campaign like Vote Leave, but running a country is different”, it said.
But, the paper added, the judges’ spectacular statement was “not a solution to the political crisis”. The prime minister has no majority in parliament, but “at the same time, parliament is reluctant to let the government fall for fear of new elections and the risk that the UK will fall out of the EU without a deal”.
‘A monumental blow’: European papers respond to Boris Johnson’s defeat in court – The Guardian