“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.”
These words, or some variation of them, have been invoked on three dramatic occasions in Britain’s House of Commons and are now synonymous with critiques of the country’s powerholders.
First uttered by Oliver Cromwell in 1653, the words were delivered again, perhaps most famously, in a 1940 critique of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The iconic line was then quoted again some 8 decades later, in early 2022, as part of an attack levelled at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
But what’s the significance of the phrase? And why has it been uttered on three separate occasions in British history? Here’s the history of the iconic quote.
Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament (1653)
By the 1650s, Oliver Cromwell’s trust in Britain’s Parliament was waning. As he saw it, the Long Parliament’s remaining members, known as the Rump Parliament, were legislating to ensure their own survival rather than to serve the will of the people.
On 20 April 1653, Cromwell stormed into the Commons Chambers with a party of armed guards in tow. He then ejected, through force, the remaining members of the Rump Parliament.
While doing so, he delivered a lacerating speech which has been echoed and quoted for centuries since. Accounts vary, but most sources recognise that Cromwell uttered some variation of the following words:
“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government […]
Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not process? […]
So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!”
The “shining bauble” mentioned by Cromwell was the ceremonial mace, which sits on the House of Commons table when the house is in session and is widely recognised as a symbol of parliamentary power.
After disbanding the Long Parliament, Cromwell established a short-lived Nominated Assembly, often referred to as the Barebones Parliament.
Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain (1940)
The words “in the name of God, go” were spoken once again in the House of Commons in May 1940.
Nazi Germany had recently attacked Norway, an act which Britain had responded to by dispatching troops to Scandinavia to assist the Norwegians. The Commons subsequently became embroiled in a 2-day discussion, from 7-8 May, known as the Norway Debate, in which military tactics and the worsening situation with Germany were disputed.
Unsatisfied with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s efforts, the Conservative backbencher Leo Amery delivered a speech to the House attacking Chamberlain’s failure to abate German advances in Norway. Amery concluded:
“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.’”
Amery is said to have whispered those final six words while pointing directly at Chamberlain. Just days later, on 10 May 1940, Germany invaded France and Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, ushering in Winston Churchill as Britain’s wartime leader.
David Davis to Boris Johnson (2022)
Cromwell’s iconic quote wasn’t retired after Amery invoked it in 1940, however. On 19 January 2022, the senior Conservative MP David Davis directed it at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson was facing fierce criticism for his involvement in the ‘partygate’ scandal, in which Johnson and other Tory officials were alleged to have attended a lockdown party in Downing Street in May 2020, despite the nation being bound to strict social distancing measures at the time.
In response to the ‘partygate’ scandal and Johnson’s leadership, Davis delivered a pointed speech against Johnson to the House:
“I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. So, I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain. ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.'”
Johnson responded, “I don’t know what he’s talking about … I don’t know what quotation he’s alluding to.”
Johnson himself is a biographer of Churchill and cites two volumes of Amery’s diaries in his own book on Churchill, The Churchill Factor. Some critics have levelled that, with Amery’s words marking the end of Chamberlain’s time in office and the start of Churchill’s, it seems implausible that Johnson would have no knowledge of the famous quote.
Either way, Johnson is widely known to have been inspired by Churchill, but Davis used the line to compare him to Chamberlain, Churchill’s less favoured predecessor. In this respect, the historical context of the quote – more so than the statement itself – was what imbued it with such power and meaning.