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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's expulsion of Conservative lawmakers who defied his will on Brexit to suffocate the possibility of a no-deal departure from the European Union was striking.

After all, he himself voted twice against his predecessor's withdrawal agreement earlier this year but Theresa May opted not to expel him or the scores of other rebels from the party.

Johnson's more brutal approach is perhaps best exemplified by his dismissal of Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Johnson's political hero, Winston Churchill. Soames, and 20 other Conservative Party lawmakers, were summarily sacked Tuesday after they voted with opposition parties in a crucial Brexit vote.

It's rare for leaders of political democracies to exact such swift vengeance — undoubtedly it's far easier for those heading up authoritarian regimes who can do so with venom and little or no accountability.

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WE'LL FIGHT THEM ON THE BACKBENCHES

Britain's iconic wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, once declared of the Nazi enemy in World War II, that "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Johnson, who has made his unwavering admiration of Churchill a key part of his own political life, even writing a genuflecting book, "The Churchill Factor; How One Man Made History" took aim at the Conservative rebel backbenches Tuesday after being bloodied by them over his Brexit plans.

Soames, the grandson of Britain's cigar-chomping leader, called his axing after 37 years as a Conservative member of parliament the "fortunes of war" in a late night interview with the BBC.

Reacting to Soames losing the Conservative whip, European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Sir Winston Churchill was a founding father of the European Union, convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. He would surely be stunned about the state of today's Conservative Party."

Others who faced the ax included two former Treasury chiefs, Philip Hammond, who served under May, and Kenneth Clarke who marshalled the economy under former prime minister John Major in the mid-1990s.

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NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES - THE UK VERSION

The term is perhaps best known to describe Adolf Hitler's purge in 1934 to consolidate his hold over the Nazi Party with scores of executions.

But in Britain, it's also known as the night in 1962 when then Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan ruthlessly culled his cabinet in an attempt to allay the drift within his government. It followed the salacious scandal the previous year that had brought down his Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, who was found to have had an extra-marital affair with a model who was also in a relationship with a Russian spy at the same time.

Macmillan's raft of sackings was viewed as a political disaster and a sign that the Conservatives, in power since 1951, were on the way out. Failing health allowed him to bow out in 1963. In 1964, the youthful left of center Labour leader Harold Wilson became prime minister.

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THE SATURDAY NIGHT MASSACRE

In the United States earlier this year as speculation swirled as to whether President Donald Trump would move to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the Russia probe hamstrung his administration, there were echoes of President Richard Nixon's Watergate crisis.

On October 20, 1973, Nixon first ordered his attorney general, and then the deputy to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.

They pointedly refused and quit on a convulsive weekend that spawned the Saturday Night Massacre but did not derail the independent investigation or Nixon's collapse for long. Nixon resigned in ignominy the following year after the impeachment process against him had begun.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and British politics at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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