National Comment Comment

CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should Boris have prorogued Parliament?

Patrick Walker and Tom Seston clash over the government's controversial decision

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Yes - Tom Seston
Since Boris Johnson announced he was proroguing parliament, we’ve had days out meltdowns and mass hysteria. A coup! An affront to the constitution! The end of democracy! All these charges are far from what’s happening. He’s spoiled the latest anti-Brexit plot, that’s what he’s done.

I’d like you all to cast your minds back about two weeks. Jeremy Corbyn proposed a ‘national unity’ government with him as ‘caretaker’ PM for a few weeks so he could delay Brexit, call a general election then either revoke Article 50 or have a second referendum. All this was met with silence from the people now screaming of a coup d’état. However, the opposition parties couldn’t quite agree on who would head this “government of national unity”. The Liberal Democrats put forward 79-year-old Father of the House Ken Clarke as their preferred choice for the unity government. In the end, this plan fell through but is seen as plan B to stop Brexit. Although, it’s rather odd to call it a ‘National Unity’ government when it comprises solely of one side of the Brexit divide with one objective, stop Brexit.  Apparently, all this is perfectly democratic and constitutional, no outrage from the Remain campaigners at all.

So, the plot to stop Brexit has now gone down the legislative route. The Remain parties want to hijack the order again and pass a law that legally compels the government to not Leave without a deal. Again, this is perfectly democratic and constitutional according to the angry Remain, #FBPE Twitter mobs, they are fine with this. So, let’s assume this law passes. The EU won’t entertain any renegotiation, we legally have to accept a deal. The EU could even turn round and add harsher conditions to the deal, triple the divorce bill, we legally can’t leave without this deal. This would pretty much end any chance the government has to alter the withdrawal agreement.

What happens then? Assuming the EU hasn’t attached harsher terms, we have the current withdrawal agreement. The one that Corbyn, the Lib Dems and the rest of the Remain parties (along with around 30 hardcore Brexiteers) have voted down three times. So we can’t renegotiate a deal, the deal we have, they voted against and we can’t leave without a deal.
So, we go onto what is the ultimate goal of the Remain parties, stopping Brexit. Presumably, this would have to take the form of a second referendum. Allegedly, this is about giving the people the final say, not about stopping Brexit. This is about democracy; after all, another vote can’t be anti-democratic. Unless, of course they won’t accept the result if it’s Leave again. Jo Swinson, Caroline Lucas, Andrew Adonis, EU Supergirl and scores of second referendum campaigners have had this question put to them. Although some tried to fudge their answer, they all concluded that if it were a Leave vote again, they would not accept that and still campaign to block Brexit. In other words, keep voting until we get the answer we want, then the result is final. Truly democratic.

Then, here comes Boris Johnson and throws a spanner in the works. Using a routine piece of Parliamentary procedure that all new Prime Ministers do, to reset the legislative agenda, in effect extending the pre-planned conference recess by four days. In the grand scheme of things, the EU has always assumed that parliament would stop a no-deal Brexit. Remain politicians have been flying over to Brussels to tell them on a regular basis. But, if parliament cannot stop a no-deal, perhaps the EU may realise that they need to budge on a few key issues. If they don’t, we can just leave anyway and negotiate from a stronger position. Contrary to what has been said, it won’t be the apocalypse.

NO - Patrick Walker
I’ve got to hand it to Boris Johnson: it didn’t take him long. We’re barely one month into his premiership, and already, we seem to be bouncing from constitutional crisis to crisis, like a drunk uncle at a wedding. Of course, the timings are never ideal, but it’s exhausting enough enduring a government as obsessed as it is with the idea of a no-deal Brexit, without having to discuss the merits of our dated, ridiculously convoluted constitution as well.

The untimely prorogation may not be the end of our liberal democracy as we know it, but it represents an unprecedented step to politicise what was previously a neutral, and rather sweet quirk of our democracy. Can Johnson legally prorogue Parliament to ensure he has the opportunity to put forward his ideas for the country? Probably. Should he do it now, shortening Parliament’s sitting time by anything from three to eight days, at such a crucial moment in the Brexit process? Absolutely not. Prorogation at this time represents a cynical attempt to subvert Parliament in order to push through a policy for which there is no democratic mandate: leaving without a deal.

Furthermore: hilst there is no precedent for much of the political chaos of the last week, there is precedent for desperate Tory leaders proroguing Parliament in order to avoid scrutiny. In 1997, John Major successfully managed to bury the ‘cash for questions’ scandal, by proroguing Parliament just before the release of a report to be published on the subject. Then, he was warned by Paddy Ashdown that the prorogation would be “deeply damaging to the reputation of the Government”. Arguably, it was: he lost the following election to Blair.

Call me cynical, but I’m starting to think that Brexit may not have been entirely about restoring Parliamentary sovereignty. Chief government policy gremlin Dominic Cummings certainly doesn’t seem to be paying it much heed. As the UK trundles closer to the 31st October cliff edge, we have to realize that the success of Boris’ premiership, as far as he is concerned, rests on delivering Brexit at all costs. He was elected by his small army of bored pensioners for one purpose: to get us out of the EU, whatever the cost. His credibility with his own party (apparently, the only credibility that matters,) will be completely lost if he fails to do so. It’s do or die, hell or high water.

I don’t understand why most Brexiteers have not recognised that suspending Parliament is an affront to the very thing they wanted in 2016: greater legislative freedom. Far from the outrage to Johnson’s decision being labelled a remoaner plot, I’m surprised that no prominent Leavers have realized the danger that a politically motivated prorogation presents. Sure, we will have left Europe, but will this have been worth it?

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