It has been a messy week, as Boris Johnson took on a cow in Scotland (easy) and fought the good fight against Bercow and the remain alliance in Westminster (trickier). We are left in an unprecedented situation, with Parliament blocking the Government’s plans, but not allowing the Prime Minister to call a General Election. Truly the long night of the living dead government.
Remainers, with short-term amnesia which would embarrass a goldfish, have gone from handwringing over the prorogation (which only stretched constitutional norms), to vote for the Benn Bill, which usurps prerogative powers to an unprecedented extent. Speaker Bercow nevertheless refused to apply for Queen’s Consent as would be normal with matters affecting the royal prerogative. Nor has the remainer’s alliance passed a money bill to permit the extra expenditure caused by any extension.
The resignation of Amber Rudd from the Cabinet and Jo Johnson from the government – plus the suspension of the 22 loose cannons who have had the whip removed – has left Boris Johnson’s parliamentary position more precarious than ever. Notwithstanding the lack of a serious or cohesive alternative, it is hard to see where he goes next. His options are now to get an agreement with the EU, which several senior Tories tell us they believe he is sincerely attempting to do. Alternatively, he can ignore the new law on the basis that it is part of a plan to keep the UK inside the EU and hence contravene toe 2016 referendum result.
An alternative reading of events is this interesting article from the New Zealand Herald which notes, that this week may not have been the ‘humiliating defeat’ for Johnson that many in the media have claimed. In many ways, Johnson emerges in a stronger position. He has shown the country his commitment to his 31st October pledge and when it comes to the election – as it surely will soon, despite Corbyn efforts to delay – he will go into it with a Conservative party which supports his Brexit policy. The Conservatives 14% poll lead over Labour in today’s Sunday Times supports this view.
BfB co-editor Robert Tombs has written a piece for the New York Times entitled ‘A Very British Constitutional Crisis’. Robert discusses where the current political crisis has come from, arguing that it represents a broader battle between popular parliamentary sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Robert Craig’s piece about the ways in which the anti-Brexit Benn Bill impinges on prerogative powers is discussed by Dominic Lawson in today’s Sunday Times.
Our other co-order, Graham Gudgin spoke at a DUP conference in Belfast at the weekend and took the chance to have extensive discussions with the DUP leadership.
On the website this week
Sovereignty: people, parliament, government, by Robert Tombs, Anna Bailey, Jonathan Clark, Lee Jones and Richard Tuck
This week BfB releases this important consideration of sovereignty, democracy and representation, and how they are legitimately exercised in a modern state. Drawing on the expertise of leading historians and political theorists, this report answers important questions about sovereignty and the constitution at this time of political crisis. The report was also sent to all MPs this week, to help them make informed decisions at this historic juncture. It features the following articles:
- Introduction, by Robert Tombs
- Why a Referendum is binding in a modern democracy, by Richard Tuck
- Is Johnson’s prorogation unconstitutional? By Anna Bailey
- Is democracy at risk? By Jonathan Clark
- The Prorogation of Parliament Reflects the Crisis of Representative Politics, by Lee Jones
- Parliament has no sovereignty higher than a popular mandate, by Richard Tuck
“Brexit has always been about the sovereignty of the nation. It has now become just as much about sovereignty within the nation.”
How Dare Remainers Say Boris is Undemocratic, by Andrew Roberts
Andrew Roberts, a leading historian of modern Britain, and a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, delights in the many delicious ironies that Remainers’ hyperbole over prorogation have given us. Far from being undemocratic, Johnson’s resolve will hand Parliament’s power to the people in perpetuity. This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the Mail on Sunday.
“The very people suspending Parliament for little over a month are doing so because they want Parliament’s power to be returned to it in perpetuity.”
#StoptheNostalgicFantasy, by Philip Cunliffe
Yet another wave of middle-class hysteria swept Britain towards the end of last week, as protests took place throughout the country in opposition to the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament, all for leaving the Commons empty for four days longer than is customary at this time of year. Lecturer in Politics, Philip Cunliffe lays bare the nostalgic fantasy behind the protests.
“Opposition party leaders are fully aware that the prorogation is not a coup, yet are willing opportunistically to debase public debate, stoke extreme sentiments and sow panic.”
A Reichstag Fire Moment?, by Titus
Titus, an academic lawyer, discusses the suggestion of a prominent historian that the government may be bringing about “Britain’s Reichstag Fire decree moment”, and show that it is nothing more than blatant hyperbole designed to provoke extreme emotion.
“Unless the Prime Minister burns down the Palace of Westminster and starts locking up opposition politicians in the lead-up to an election, talk of “a Reichstag moment” is absurdly wide of the mark”
Lies, Lies and Those Damned Brexit Statistics, by Robin Dunbar
BfB contributor Robin Dunbar tackles the Remainer falsehoods that continue to do the rounds on social media one by one: the £350m that could be invested in the NHS, that the PM has no popular mandate; that we should have a second referendum.
“Not only does it bring politics into disrepute, but it raises serious questions about the democratic process and the entitlement to vote”
Constitutional expert Robert Craig discusses the ways in which the Benn Bill differs from the earlier Letwin-Cooper Bill, impinging on prerogative powers to a far greater degree.
“The proponents of a new Bill to prevent No Deal are caught on the horns of a dilemma. If they had drafted a Bill that only mandated the PM to seek an extension, the PM would be left free to refuse to agree or accept any extension in negotiations with the EU27.”
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion continues over on Facebook too. Justin James Meggitt agrees with Titus that the PM’s prorogation is a far cry from the Reichstag Fire, commenting that “It is a shame that such an important historian of Germany as Richard Evans, has decided to trivialise National Socialism by such an argument. He has let his politics get the better of his judgement.”
How you can help
We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion. There are thousands of you. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Write to your MPs. Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture. Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors. Make your views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge