The week started slowly, with employees trudging back to their workplaces after a record breaking bank holiday weekend full of beaches, blankets and BBQ bliss. Boris Johnson and his loyal special advisors had other ideas, however, and threw the political world into turmoil by proroguing parliament from the week commencing 9 September until 14 October. Political fallout ensued.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson confirmed his government’s intention to begin preparations to prorogue parliament. Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg made a dramatic dash to Balmoral to seek the Queen’s permission to suspend parliament for a month leading up to a Queen’s Speech on 14 October. This permission was given.
While it’s undoubtedly a very effective strategic move, denying the “Remain alliance” a chance to vote down conference recess (thus giving them more time to hold the government to account) is the very definition of a slippery slope. The centrepiece of the UK’s constitutional system is the ability of parliament to effectively scrutinise the executive; removing parliament’s ability to do this renders it completely ineffective. While this isn’t completely uncharted territory, as parliament has been prorogued before, to do so at a time of national crisis is worrying. This sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to our uncodified and in part unwritten constitution. Our constitution is made up of written text, royal prerogatives and historic convention. This has allowed it to be flexible and organic in times of national crisis, but there are certain behaviours which can cause an uncodified constitution to eventually break. Is Boris Johnson at risk of pushing our democracy over the edge?
Loose lips sink ships
On Thursday, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace was caught on camera revealing that the prorogation of parliament may have been more cynical than we first thought (surprise, surprise). In the clip, widely circulated on Twitter, he explains that the decision is more to do with parliamentary arithmetic, admitting that the government is worried that it would not be able to command a majority in the House of Commons in the event of something like a confidence motion. Number 10 were quick to respond to Ben’s slip –up however, claiming that he “misspoke”.
The last march of the Remainers
After their cross-party meeting on Tuesday, it looked as if the “Remain alliance” made up of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Change UK leader, Anna Soubry, SNP Westminister leader Ian Blackford, and Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts were gearing up for war! Instead, Boris and his advisor Dominic Cummings were able to wrong-foot the Remain backing group, causing heightened political panic over Twitter and beyond.
Opponents of no deal have reacted to the announcement with statements of outrage and cries of “it’s unconstitutional!” Technically, prorogation is not, but a clear path for opponents to collectively stop no deal is yet to emerge. It could involve requesting an emergency SO24 debate in the Commons as soon as parliament returns on Tuesday, or setting up the opportunity to seize control of the order paper and table anti no-deal legislation. But with only 14 days to do it, time is fast running out.
Ruth Davidson, one of the Conservative Party’s most high-profile opponents of no deal, quit as leader of the Scottish Conservatives on Thursday. In her statement, she outlined that “much had changed” both politically and personally, which had led her to tender her resignation, but she outlined that it had been the “privilege of her life” to have led the party.
Make no mistake, this is a significant blow for the Tories and seriously affects their chances of establishing themselves as the dominant opposition party in Scotland. If support for the Conservatives in Scotland starts to wane and they lose the 13 seats they currently have in the country, then it becomes difficult to see where they could gain enough seats to form a majority government in the event of a general election, particularly with the Lib Dems nipping at their heels in the south west of England.
Nevertheless, this resignation shows how dramatically the Conservative Party has changed over the last three years. Before, Ruth Davidson was touted as the future leader of the party, but now her liberal conservative views seem far removed from what the Conservative Party membership desire in a leadership figure.
WARNING incoming hypocrisy
Elsewhere, other prominent ministers have been desperate to avoid the media spotlight, particularly when looking at their past comments on prorogation.
On the 6 June, the secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, wrote a letter rejecting the idea of proroguing parliament, outlining that it “undermines parliamentary democracy and risks a general election”. He then called on all Conservative leadership candidates to rule it out.
Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport has also used forceful language when discussing the option of proroguing parliament. During BBC Question Time in June 2019 she outlined that “proroguing parliament is clearly a mad suggestion, you cannot say that you’re taking back control to parliament and then go, by the way we’re just going to shut down parliament for a couple of months so that we drift out with a no-deal [Brexit]”.
These are not the only ministers who have made such comments, with Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and even Boris Johnson himself outlining their opposition to proroguing parliament at some point in the last few months.
Next week is sure to mark a furious return to parliament for MPs from across the House, before parliament is prorogued the week after. We’re now moving towards the end game, and at the moment, it looks as though the momentum is with the Brexiteers.
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