There is no equivalence between constitutional manoeuvres to block no deal and Johnson’s contempt for our democratic traditionsby Schona Jolly / August 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
Imagine, if you will, an authoritarian government which decided to shut up the parliamentary shop so that it could carry out, unobstructed, a policy for which it had no parliamentary support. It had never sought any electoral mandate for that policy. It had no working majority and there was no wider parliamentary support behind the scheme. Indeed, it knew that parliament would use every tool available to block that policy on the basis that, even on the government’s own assessments, it would cause irreversible damage to the country it purported to rule. So it shut down parliament, in effect, to seek to silence it and to prevent it from taking steps to change course.
Everything about this description offends both the substance and the spirit of democratic principle. Yet today we learned that Boris Johnson will suspend parliament for five weeks to prevent MPs carrying out their proper constitutional function. Respect for parliament, and the electorate, dictates that the government should allow as much time as possible for MPs to debate and scrutinise its actions in the run up to an ever-more-likely crash out. In taking this decision Johnson has shown a flagrant disregard for the most fundamental of our democratic traditions.
The strategy from No 10 has been to change the description. Supported by a well-rehearsed line coming out of Tory Twitter, they pretend this is business as normal and the real problem lies with the MPs trying to use parliamentary procedure to block no deal. But contrary to the claims from some quarters, this is not about a routine crafting of the Queen’s Speech. The suspension of parliament for an unprecedented length of time, in the context of one the most divisive and damaging policies of any British government, pushed by an unelected prime minister, is not business as normal. One cannot just ignore the most controversial policy in memory, in the middle of a negotiating period with the EU and claim prorogation of parliament is a mere practicality.
False equivalence has been a dangerous narrative of the Brexit years. It posits the idea that both sides are really as bad as each other. No sooner are the prorogation papers out of the bag than the false equivalence flags emerge again. They complain of double standards, that Remain MPs (who are now said to include those who voted for May’s Withdrawal Agreement but want to prevent no deal) are allowed to use any constitutional tool at their disposal to block a no deal,…