The decision to suspend parliament ahead of the UK’s looming Brexit deadline has been broadly criticised in Europe’s newspapers, particularly for what they call its detrimental effect on democracy.
There is a sense that the chances of a no-deal Brexit have increased and dread of the likely consequences – especially in Ireland, where PM Boris Johnson’s manoeuvre is the focus of front pages.
Mr Johnson’s character is also scrutinised as commentators try to explain his behaviour and motives.
‘Manufacturing a crisis’
“Boris Johnson schemes while Britain slowly burns,” says The Irish Times. The commentary this headline accompanies accuses Mr Johnson of “manufacturing a crisis – or at least worsening an existing one – to leverage his image as Britain’s saviour”.
“The most charitable interpretation is that he is seeking to buy himself a few weeks’ breathing room while he negotiates minor tweaks to the EU-UK deal,” says the paper’s editorial. “But it remains a profoundly risky and undemocratic act.”
The Irish Independent calls the move a “grab for control” and its editorial says the “bold and arguably reckless step… guarantees that both sides are locked into a high-risk game”. “Our country is in the direct path of the fallout clouds,” it adds.
“Given that such powerful and influential politicians in Britain appear powerless to stop Boris Johnson, it is unlikely that either the Taoiseach or the foreign minister will be able to sway him,” the Irish Examiner counsels. “Better, therefore, that they step up efforts to limit the fallout from a no-deal Brexit.”
‘As perfidious as it is ingenious’
The story is further down the agenda in other European newspapers, where there is some praise for Mr Johnson’s manoeuvring amid wide condemnation of it and of his motives.
“That a premier who did not compete in elections claims to make a decision of such great magnitude knowing that parliament is against it, accurately reflects Johnson’s character,” says a commentator in Spain’s El Mundo.
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine calls Mr Johnson “a rogue, who has malicious intent”.
His tactic is “as perfidious as it is ingenious”, says a Suddeutsche Zeitung commentary. The prime minister and his advisers – “enormously purposeful and nefarious” – are making parliament “an onloooker of the decision of the century”.
“Boris Johnson followed through on the riskiest and most impudent bet thus far in the crazy history of Brexit, even at the cost of triggering a constitutional crisis,” says Il Foglio in Italy.
Business daily Handelsblatt says prorogation is “certainly chicanery, and the idea behind it is deeply undemocratic”.
“This happens not in Hong Kong, Moscow or a banana republic, but in the fatherland of rights. This adds to the shock,” says Italy’s La Repubblica.
“We in the West keep not wanting to see how vulnerable our democracy is,” adds the NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands.
There are also questions as to whether the kingdom can remain united following Mr Johnson’s act:
“This political circus of the worst quality is utterly shameful, as it not only devalues what remained somewhat credible in the UK, but gives the separatists a huge argument… in support of their desire to separate as quickly as possible,” says Romania’s Adevarul.
‘Parliament cannot deliver’
Belgium’s De Standaard says the move is “understandable” though. “Because the House of Commons is so divided on Brexit, it has never succeeded in approving a Brexit agreement… Johnson wants to avoid going down the same path.”
“This same parliament has proved all year that it cannot deliver a useful majority for anything whatsoever,” adds Belgian financial De Tijd.
In Poland some speak of Mr Johnson’s “game” – “extremely dangerous, but he has a specific plan of how to win it. Our blond boy is not a kamikaze,” says a commentator in the daily Rzeczpospolita.
Several commentators also believe the move may trigger a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government and result in early elections.
“This seems to be Boris Johnson’s unacknowledged priority,” says France’s Le Figaro.