In 1865 the British politician and reformer John Bright described the English Parliament as “the mother of parliaments”. Yet the long and chequered history of British Parliamentary democracy has been pushed closer to a constitutional crisis by the stresses and strains of Brexit.
The latest incarnation of how the current model of working is straining at the seams was the decision by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to ‘prorogue’ Parliament. The term has added another new word for the British citizenry to get to grips with and it has triggered a storm of response.
So what is ‘proroguing’? Essentially it signifies the closing of one parliamentary term ahead of a Queen’s Speech - the opening of a new term around a new set of priorities and legislation. The period is usually short but some Prime Ministers, including Clement Attlee and John Major, have adopted longer periods for political ends.
The official explanation for the particular long proroguing that Prime Minister Johnson has enacted is that a long Parliamentary term needs a break before an ‘ambitious’ new agenda, focusing on delivering Brexit, education, crime and healthcare can be adopted. However, the fact that the prorogation, essentially a suspension of Parliament in sitting, has happened just before the hard Brexit deadline of October the 31st makes the official explanation hard to stomach.
Instead it seems to be an attempt by the Executive - to pushback against an overly assertive Parliamentary Legislative. That Parliament is playing a more significant role around Brexit isn’t surprising, especially now that it is a ‘hung’ Parliament with no overall majority. Suspending Parliament means less time for them to prevent Johnson’s push for leaving on the 31st of October. Any legislation or even a vote of no confidence would now need to happen in a far shorter window.
This may all be academic as Boris Johnson delivered a speech from Downing Street on the 2nd of September warning that Conservative MPs who attempt to prevent his Brexit strategy will be deselected. He also stressed that he would not request any form of extension from the EU, essentially signalling that he would prefer to call a General Election than deliver the will of the current Parliament.
Political analysts are already pencilling in a 14th October election date if Parliament defeats the Government on Brexit. Although some speculate that Prime Minister Johnson may try to use the powers of his office to delay the election to after the Brexit deadline taking the country out of Europe regardless of the result.
Johnson has to factor in that the newly formed ‘Brexit Party’, which dominated the recent EU elections, could cut his party off at the knees in marginal seats splitting the Conservative vote and allowing the Opposition to win seats that normally would have been considered ‘safe’.
Whilst the Conservative party take an 11-point lead in the polls, the last General Election saw Theresa May squander a 24-point lead to deliver the current Parliament. In other words British politics is in so much flux that a General Election just before Brexit would be incredibly unpredictable. This is because traditional party loyalties are now split across the Brexit identities of ‘leave’ and ‘remain’. The last General Election, in 2017, was nominally about Brexit but was actually dominated by issues around public sector spending, an election just before the October 31st deadline would be a referendum in redux.
THAT is only if an election is allowed to happen. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act means that we could face a scenario in which the Opposition Labour Party choose not to support an election. Although unlikely with such existential stakes at play it seems best to prepare for any and all eventualities. The British currency has dropped to levels it hasn’t seen since 1985 and leaks from Government have painted a grim picture of what a ‘no deal’ Brexit could look like.
If an election is to happen expect a bitter and divisive campaign. Over three years after the Brexit Referendum the divisions that Brexit has exposed in the country appear deeper than ever and few political leaders seem interested in pursuing an agenda of genuine unity.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.