Despite a personal apology from beleaguered Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Buckingham Palace sources say Queen Elizabeth is deeply frustrated at being drawn into the political firestorm raging over Brexit.
Johnson telephoned the queen midweek after Britain’s Supreme Court decided he had been wrong to ask her for approval to suspend Parliament for five weeks — a historic ruling allowing the House of Commons to resume its session and frustrating government plans to take Britain out of the European Union by Johnson’s October 31 deadline.
“He got on to the queen as quickly as possible to say how sorry he was” by requiring her to approve what the Court later ruled an unlawful suspension of Commons, a Downing Street official said. The 11-judge court, to the anger of Brexiters, ruled unanimously Tuesday that the suspension, known formally as a prorogation, was designed to obstruct parliamentary scrutiny of his plans to break with the EU.
The court’s rebuke, and implied suggestion that Johnson lied to the queen to get her approval for the prorogation, has led to a breakdown in trust between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, according Britain’s Sunday Times. Courtiers are frustrated with Johnson for ignoring concerns expressed privately by the queen’s advisers prior to the prorogation.
“They are not impressed by what is going on — at the very highest levels of the family,” a senior civil servant told the newspaper.
Brexit has bent British politics out of all recognizable shape, shattering the delicate balance of power shared between Parliament, the courts, the government and the Crown, say analysts. Johnson claimed he needed the prorogation to draft plans for a new government program in line with a normal pattern that sees an annual autumn parliamentary suspension.
However, the length of the prorogation — more than double the usual duration — and its timing led Britain’s top court to agree with Johnson’s opponents that he wanted avoid Commons scrutinizing or blocking his Brexit plans.
Johnson’s woes, though, are not only with the palace. Prompted partly by transatlantic political developments and the impeachment inquiry announced by Democratic lawmakers into U.S. President Donald Trump, opposition party leaders in Britain are exploring the possibility of of reviving an impeachment process that has not been used since 1848, one of several options being explored to censure Johnson.
The move would constitute a revival of an obsolete sanctions process not seen in Britain since the mid-19th century, when there was an unsuccessful move to impeach Lord Palmerston, then foreign minister, for having signed a secret treaty with Russia. In earlier centuries impeachment of members of the executive wasn’t an uncommon method to depose ministers the Crown refused to discard, and was first used in 1376 with the impeachment of William Latimer, a crown minister. The last successful impeachment was of Henry Dundas, the peer Viscount Melville and secretary of war for misappropriation of public money.
Opposition politicians are throwing Johnson's 2004 call for the impeachment of Prime Minister Tony Blair for misleading the country over the reasons for going to war against Iraq back at him. In a newspaper column Johnson wrote, “He treated parliament and the public with contempt, and that is why he deserves to be impeached.”
Welsh nationalist MP Liz Saville Roberts, acknowledges that “the idea of impeaching a prime minister seems extraordinary — unique even. But we are in extraordinary times.”
She added: “I have made clear to opposition leaders that Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to get away scot-free with breaking the law by shutting down parliament. Motions are being discussed between opposition parties and House of Commons officials that would see a salary cut, bans from parliament and other disciplinary measures, alongside a motion to explore impeachment.”
Such a move would inflame the country’s already-incendiary politics, which last week saw ferocious exchanges between members of the minority Conservative government Johnson leads and opposition parties and rebel Conservatives. Johnson’s own sister, broadcaster Rachel Johnson, branded his rhetoric as “tasteless” and “reprehensible.”
Johnson has repeatedly denounced legislation that would force him to delay Brexit if he can't agree an exit deal with the EU, calling it a “surrender bill.” He dismissed as “humbug” lawmakers' worries that “immoderate language” by government ministers is encouraging Brexiter outliers to target MPs with death threats, and risks an incident like the murder by a Brexit fanatic three years ago of Labour lawmaker, Jo Cox.
“My brother is using words like ‘surrender’ and ‘capitulation’ as if the people standing in the way of the blessed will of the people, as defined by the 17.4 million votes in 2016, should be hung, drawn, quartered, tarred, and feathered,” Rachel Johnson told Sky News. “I think that is highly reprehensible.”
Brexiters also say they are targeted by foul language and threats as a consequence of their opponents dubbing them racists. Government ministers accuse the Supreme Court of mounting a “constitutional coup” with its ruling and of straying deeply into political territory.
Johnson is also facing rising calls for him to explain his relationship when the mayor of London with an American ex-model and entrepreneur, Jennifer Arcuri. He is accused of failing to declare a series of potential conflicts of interest over benefits provided to Arcuri’s business by London authorities, including sponsorship cash for her company and other benefits and preferential treatment, including being on three overseas trade missions led by Johnson that officials had ruled she wasn’t eligible to join.
Johnson’s dealings with Arcuri, whose London apartment he visited frequently, is now the subject of four official investigations, including one by a police watchdog for misconduct in public office.