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Bold Move or Coup? Social Media Reacts to Boris Johnson

Not even Queen Elizabeth II was spared.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused of provoking a constitutional crisis. The opposition was denounced as ignoring the will of the people.

Almost no one in Britain seemed able to avoid the debate about Brexit, seemingly louder than ever on Wednesday, as accusations, defenses and counterattacks ricocheted around social media.

The barrage began in the morning, after Mr. Johnson announced that he would limit the time that Parliament has to try to prevent Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union without a deal.

He was immediately assailed by critics, and defended nearly as quickly, exposing the deep divisions that over three years of debate about Brexit have failed to resolve.

By late Wednesday, an online petition against Mr. Johnson’s move surpassed one million signatures, meaning that it must be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

But others leaped to the defense of Mr. Johnson, calling his leadership bold and his determination admirable. They said he was merely trying to carry out the will of voters in the 2016 referendum in which Britain decided to leave the European Union.

[What a no-deal Brexit might mean, and why it matters.]

Here is how the debate is playing out on social media.


Mr. Johnson, who has long polarized Britons on his chaotic, swerving ascent to the prime minister’s office, has no shortage of critics in London, the city where he was once mayor.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square and elsewhere in Britain on Wednesday night. Owen Jones, a left-wing activist and columnist, called for his followers to “take to the streets across Britain.”

On Twitter, critics converged on the hashtag #stopthecoup, and lawmakers of the opposition Labour Party loudly denounced the prime minister. The leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, said, “We’re doing everything we can to stop Boris Johnson’s smash and grab against our democracy.”

Clive Lewis, a Labour member of Parliament, called for lawmakers to be ready for more drastic action — a takeover of the Parliament chamber to “defend democracy.”

The actor Hugh Grant, using a couple of expletives, responded to Mr. Johnson on Twitter by saying, “You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend.” Britain, he said, was “revolted.”

Others focused on what they described as Mr. Johnson’s narrow mandate. Under the parliamentary system, Mr. Johnson was elected directly by the governing Conservative party after Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation. In the party’s July election, 160,000 party members — about 0.3 percent of registered British voters — decided on the leader.

Alastair Campbell, who worked as the press secretary for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, highlighted the disparity — and cast the moment as an “Old Etonian” insider’s game, referring to the elite school Eton College, which Mr. Johnson attended.

Caroline Nokes, a Conservative member of Parliament who was minister of immigration under Mrs. May, shared a photo of her dessert — an Eton Mess.

Standing Behind Johnson

Some offered a robust defense of Mr. Johnson, heralding what they saw as a strong move forward. Eddie Hughes, a Conservative member of Parliament, praised his “strong leadership” and urged Britons to give Mr. Johnson an opportunity to finally withdraw the country from the European Union.

President Trump, long a supporter of Mr. Johnson, echoed that sentiment, saying it “would be very hard” for Mr. Corbyn to seek a no-confidence vote against the prime minister, “especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for, & will prove to be ‘a great one!’”

The commentator Piers Morgan, who said he had voted to stay in the bloc, said Parliament’s job was to carry out the will of voters in the Brexit referendum.

And there is precedent for altering the parliamentary calendar, the commentator Geoff Norcott noted.

A ‘Backlash Against the Queen’?

Mr. Johnson made his request to change Parliament’s calendar to Queen Elizabeth II, who approved. Though the monarch’s consent for such requests is generally considered a formality, it drew its own backlash.


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