Even if the PM doesn’t break the law, his tactics place democracy under grave threatby Jonathan Lis / September 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
Of all the shocks and outrages we have witnessed in the last three years, the most obscene so far was, in the end, barely commented on. It came on Monday night, when Boris Johnson rose in the Commons to appeal for an election.
What he said was drowned out by the fact he was proroguing parliament for nakedly political ends—but in fact carries even greater significance. The prime minister announced the following: “I will go to Brussels… on 17th October and negotiate our departure on 31st October—hopefully with a deal, but without one if necessary. I will not ask for another delay.”
The wording is crucial. Johnson declared, in parliament, that he will not seek an Article 50 extension even if there is no deal. That is a direct and explicit contravention of the Act of Parliament, approved last week, which mandates him to do so.
The prime minister has stated on the record that he is prepared to break the law. One interpretation is that he is indeed willing to do so. That would represent the gravest constitutional misdemeanour in 300 years. The likelier scenario is little better: that Johnson does not intend to break the law, but wants us to think he does.
Johnson’s premiership is demolishing everything the Conservative Party is meant to stand for: parliamentary sovereignty, the constitution, political stability, legal tradition, and Britain’s democratic institutions. It now behoves the Justice Secretary and Attorney General, along with moderate ministers such as Julian Smith and Nicky Morgan, to explain how they can remain in a government which does not commit to uphold the rule of law. But the PM’s tactics seem clear. He wishes to convince people that he will do anything and everything to deliver Brexit on time. This allows him to paint an image of the lone martyr ranged against the instruments of the British metropolitan elite. He has calculated that Tory voters, like American Republicans, are not in fact devotees of stability and tradition, but untapped revolutionaries who know what needs to be broken and which strongman needs to break it.
By promising, until the last moment, that he will defy parliament and the law, Johnson hopes to whip up his target electorate. He aims to radicalise ordinary voters against MPs, journalists, civil servants and judges: put simply, anyone in the British establishment who is not…