Britain’s prime minister sees himself as Winston Churchill’s heir. But what if he is remembered as Churchill’s weak, humiliated predecessor instead?
“In the name of God, go!”
If you wanted to choose a quotation to wound Boris Johnson—a man who wrote a biography of Winston Churchill as a coded advertisement for his own virtues—then this would be it. When Johnson’s fellow Conservative David Davis stood up in Parliament today and said these words, he must have intended them to be a fatal blow. Davis was not comparing the prime minister to his hero Churchill. He was comparing him to Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s weak, appeasing predecessor.
The quotation comes from a 1940 debate on Britain’s conduct in the dispiriting first months of the Second World War, as Britain failed to defend Norway from a German invasion. The Conservative Leo Amery compared Chamberlain’s attitude toward Adolf Hitler to that of a lion hunter caught sleeping by the lion. “That is, in brief, the story of our initiative over Norway,” Amery said. Then he built to a conclusion that quoted Oliver Cromwell, who overthrew and executed King Charles I. “This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.’”