Truth is fast losing all currency in our politics. But a ruling in Edinburgh demonstrates it still counts a great deal in the courtsby Tom Clark / September 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’ll leave it to lawyers to digest the remarkable ruling by the Court of Session in Edinburgh that “the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null.” They will be able to anticipate and explain, as I can’t, what this means for public law, the Union, the position of the Queen—and whether or not it will soon be overturned and forgotten in the Supreme Court.
But I would like to offer a few brief thoughts on what the prorogation episode, and now this ruling, tell us about the evolution of political lying. “It was,” the judges say at one point, “incumbent on the government to show a valid reason for prorogation, having regard to the constitutional importance of parliamentary scrutiny of executive action. The circumstances, particularly the length, showed that the purpose was to prevent such scrutiny.”
In his “dear colleague” letter to MPs explaining why he was shutting down parliament for five weeks, Boris Johnson lied about his real motivations. Politicians have always concealed, spoken half-truths and—when they could get away with it—told outright untruths. But the interesting thing about this particular lie is that it was a proper Trumpian in-full-public-view-but-we-don’t-care sort of a lie.
I haven’t heard or read anyone of any political persuasion—other than those who are actually serving in the Johnson government—seriously maintain that the main consideration was a burning desire to, as the prime minister claimed, “bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda.”
Yes, the standard Queen’s Speech follows a brief prorogation, and yes a Queen’s Speech was overdue. But Johnson is obviously entirely preoccupied with—and consumed by— Brexit; he has until very recently shown little serious interest in social policy. More fundamentally, there has been no real effort to pretend that shutting down parliament was about anything other than Brexit. The official account was—nakedly—a case of going through the motions.
Just like we could all see from the photos how thin those “record-smashing” crowds at Trump’s inauguration really were, we could all read the newspapers which relayed what insiders were saying to journalists about the real thinking about shutting parliament. That thinking rested on entirely different reasons from those the PM openly spelled out. One cabinet minister, Ben Wallace,…