New York Times on Brexit: ‘Smug, Entitled Private School Types’ Would ‘Starve Britons’

September 5th, 2019 2:27 PM

The bruising political backlash against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aggressive push in Parliament for a “no deal” exit from the European Union led Thursday’s New York Times. Reporter Mark Landler set the scene:

The raucous spectacle in the House of Commons illustrated the obstacles Mr. Johnson will face as he tries to lead Britain out of the European Union next month. On Wednesday, Parliament handed the prime minister two stinging defeats.

It first blocked his plans to leave the union with or without an agreement. And it then stymied his bid, at least for the moment, to call an election for Oct. 15, out of fear he could secure a new majority in favor of breaking with Europe, deal or no deal.

The paper blamed Brexit for everything wrong and undemocratic in British politics, while downplaying the fact that it’s Johnson who wants another democratic election as soon as possible.

The upheaval in Parliament on Wednesday was the latest and perhaps the ultimate test of a political system that has been under unrelenting strain since the British voted narrowly to leave the European Union in June 2016.

Britain has since unwittingly become a laboratory for how a deeply rooted parliamentary democracy can be shaken to its core by populism, especially when wrapped in the democratic legitimacy of a public referendum.

More Brexit horror stories were offered.

In the three years since the referendum, however, people here have heard harrowing accounts of what could happen if Britain leaves Europe without a deal: shortages of food and medicine; trucks lined up for miles at newly installed border posts on each side of the English Channel; chaos at airports and train stations; and violence in Ireland after a hard border once again bisects the island.

But it was reporter Benjamin Mueller who really brought the anti-Brexit contempt in “Leader of House of Commons Takes Brexit Lying Down,” mocking the leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, a rare traditional, upper-class social conservative, for having taken a lie-down on a bench in the House of Commons during the heated debate.

Around him colleagues raged at the power grabs of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, in which Mr. Rees-Mogg serves as leader of the House of Commons. But there was Mr. Rees-Mogg, nicknamed “the honorable gentleman from the 18th century” for his old-world tics and antiquarian poshness, looking like a Degas model, with his willowy frame and long, angular face.

His legs were crossed. His midsection, wrapped in a double-breasted suit, was nearly flush with the green leather bench. He clasped his hands and tipped back his head.

After years of looking down on “uneducated” Trump supporters, a rigorous classical education is suddenly seen as silly.

From across the chamber, as the internet memes soon noted, Mr. Rees-Mogg’s slouch mirrored the downward trajectory of the British pound, as well as his party’s political fortunes.

For a government in crisis over its plan to shut down Parliament and pull Britain out of the European Union, it was a devastating look, seeming to confirm critics’ worst fears about a government of smug, entitled private school types sleepwalking into a no-deal Brexit that could wreck the economy and starve Britons of food and medicine.

But it was also showed the perils of Mr. Johnson handing the reins of Parliament to Britain’s favorite pinstriped populist, a man who won Conservative hearts with his Edwardian accent and 29-letter words but -- like Mr. Johnson himself -- is now ensnared in problems that no amount of archaic mannerisms and labored alliteration can fix.

In 2018 the Times constructed an actual “news” story wholly out of “mean tweets” mocking Rees-Mogg’s background and demeanor, invited one and all to cruelly insult a conservative politician, like this cutter from a random Twitter account: “May nanny bath you in ice cold water and rub you down with a Brillo pad.”

The shocked hostility toward the conservative prime minister has never abated. In August the Times claimed Europe had been left “aghast” at Boris Johnson temporarily suspending Parliament: “Diplomats in Europe Are Left Aghast by U.K.” Earlier in August, Stephen Castle and Steven Erlanger penned: “Task for Johnson in Diplomatic Tour: ‘Not to Be Seen as Trump’s Poodle.'”