31st August 2019
Protests set to continue this weekend against the shutdown of Parliament in the UK
The furore this week over the decision by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament has inevitably generated more heat than light. It is interesting for example that both Speaker John Bercow and former Tory Lord Heseltine described the move as a “constitutional outrage”, though neither have been sufficiently outraged to suggest that the move is unconstitutional.
In part this may be due to the opaque nature of the British constitution, which is often incorrectly described as unwritten but is correctly characterised as uncodified, essentially meaning that while much is written down, it is not all in one place or been agreed at one time.
This reliance on past practice and precedent gives any UK government a high degree of latitude in its interpretation of what is legally permissible in constitutional terms. Proroguing Parliament prior to a Queen’s Speech is not, as the oleaginous Jacob Rees-Mogg, newly installed Leader of the House, has been at pains to point out this week, unconstitutional in itself. The question presently being tested in the courts, is whether this proroguing for this length of time, at this point in time, could be deemed unconstitutional and therefore stopped.
It will be a surprise of if the petitioners, led by Gina Miller, former Prime Minister, John Major, and latterly Labour Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, are successful in this endeavour. Even if they are, the anti-no deal camp does not appear to have a coherent purpose other then preventing no deal. Quite what they are for is split between Remain at all costs, a second referendum and a General Election.
Parliament will sit for little more than a week next week, before proroguing till the 14th October, just two weeks ahead of the 31st October deadline for leaving the European Union. Any Parliamentary moves have a small window of opportunity within which to block no deal. It is also entirely possible that whatever Bill is drafted for discussion, pro-Leave MPs will filibuster out before it can pass into law.
There are many ironies in the present situation. In spite of her vehement opposition to no deal Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson ruled out supporting a vote of no confidence, which would have seen Jeremy Corbyn become caretaker Prime Minister with a view to suspending Article 50 and calling a General Election. Swinson and her ilk have earned themselves the soubriquet ‘Meatloafers’ – I would do anything to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but I won’t do that. Truly ironic from a party which propped up the Cameron government; voted through each of George Osborne’s austerity budgets; agreed to cut welfare benefits; raised tuition fees; and did not pip a squeak when then Home Secretary, Theresa May, introduced her ‘hostile environment’ policy for asylum seekers and refugees.
Tory Remainers, whimpering now that they find Johnson and Rees-Mogg leading the charge to a Hallowe’en no deal, forget that options to prevent this have been in front of them several times but when it has come to the crunch they have always voted for their seats, their careers and their government.
There is of course the final irony that the streets may well be thronged this week with people supporting democracy, opposing Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament, yet calling for the UK to remain part of an anti-democratic institution with a nominally elected Parliament but where the real power lies with the unelected commissioners – the European Union.
The streets do need to be filled. People do need to express their sense of outrage and injustice. They need to be outraged at child poverty in the world’s fifth richest economy. They need to be outraged about the potential outsourcing and privatisation of the NHS. They need to be scandalised by the super rich, who bankroll Johnson and the Tory Party, plundering the resources of the country and syphoning their profits off into tax havens. They need to oppose the commissioning of new Trident nuclear weapons systems.
There is much to be angry about, of which Johnson proroguing Parliament is one thing, but the real demand on the streets should be for the one thing everyone from the present government to the Lib Dems, DUP, Scottish Nationalists and anyone not supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are afraid of: a General Election.