Boris Johnson has always claimed he’s a parliamentarian. His actions yesterday show that claim can be added to the long list of lies we’ve grown used to hearing from him.
His decision to prorogue Parliament isn’t just a cynical political move to force through a no deal Brexit, regardless of the disastrous consequences it will have for our country. It is a deeply unconstitutional move.
Britain is a parliamentary democracy. Parliament is sovereign and the government has to seek the consent of MPs for its legislation. That is a pillar of our democracy.
Johnson knows his no deal Brexit does not have the support of the majority of MPs, all of them democratically elected. Nor does it have the support of the majority of the people, in spite of his ludicrous and deeply insulting claims that he is standing up for the people against parliament.
One wonders whether it even has the support of his own ministers. After all, it was only a few months ago that Michael Gove, now chief cheer leader for a crash-out Brexit, said: “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped to lead.”
But that is what the Government is now trying to deliver. The capture of the Conservative party by the hard-right, driven by fear of losing votes to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, has meant that Brexit is now defined as a “no deal” Brexit. Nothing less will do.
Johnson knows he cannot force his no deal Brexit through the House of Commons so he has decided to suspend it instead. Shutting down Parliament in this way, he believes will give him free rein to carry on with his Brexit plans.
This is a prime minister chosen by a tiny proportion of the electorate, with a majority in Parliament of precisely one, trying to drive through the biggest change in our country for generations without any democratic scrutiny or parliamentary oversight. It’s hard to see it as anything other than a coup.
The consequences for the people of this country are deeply worrying. The organisations which have warned about the disastrous impact of a no deal Brexit include the Bank of England, the TUC, environmental NGOs, manufacturers, farmers, pharmacists, and logistics companies. The government’s own internal advice document – leaked to the Sunday Times – warns of shortages of fresh food, fuel and medicine; a risk of public unrest; passengers and freight being delayed at ports and airports.
All to soften up Britain to be asset-stripped by Boris Johnson’s new best friend, Donald Trump.
If there was any other cause for this, like strikes or a foreign power, parliament would be recalled in an instant. Yet because it’s the government which is behind it, exactly the opposite is happening: parliament is being suspended.
If Boris Johnson thinks MPs and the public will just let this happen, he is mistaken. More than 200 of us have already signed the Church House Declaration, defending parliamentary sovereignty against Downing Street’s abuse of power.
A petition demanding that parliament must not be prorogued unless Article 50 is first extended or revoked has gained more than a million signatures.
The defence of democracy won’t stop there. If parliament is silenced on the biggest issue of our time, we must take to the streets in peaceful protest and civil disobedience. MPs must call an extraordinary session of parliament, irrespective of the wishes of an increasingly reckless and out of control prime minister.
But we need more than this. Democracy in this country needs to be protected, not just over our future with the EU. For the last three years, political debate in Britain has been consumed by Brexit. It has sucked all the oxygen out of the political process – and will continue to do so, regardless of the outcome of the current crisis.
In the meantime, the climate crisis is accelerating. Public services are barely coping and disillusionment is growing. None of these issues will be resolved by a single-handed seizure of power by the prime minister. We need a People’s Vote on Brexit and citizens’ assemblies on the climate emergency.
The answer to our current political crisis is more democracy, not less. Our Westminster-focused political system is already an over-concentration of power. Now even that has been narrowed, with a small economic and political elite seizing power for itself.
The immediate crisis is Brexit, but there will be others. They will only be resolved peacefully and democratically with a rebalancing of political power in Britain. Not with a constitutional coup.