Suspension of UK Parliament, August 2019 (1)

Yesterday (28th August) Boris Johnson asked the Queen to suspend Parliament and she agreed. Jeremy Corbyn (Labour) and Jo Swinson (Lib-Dem) sent letters to the Queen asking her to refuse BJ’s request but they were too late; she had already given her consent. Very, very few people knew this was going to happen; the day before, Nicky Morgan had said it wouldn’t. She must be furious – but will she resign?

 

The extraordinary circumstance of Brexit, its extensions and its travails, mean that the current Parliamentary session has lasted 400 days. It is tradition for an incoming Prime Minister to set a date with the Queen for Parliament to resume, initiated by a Queen’s Speech which sets out what we would call the Programme for Government, followed by a couple of days of debate on same.

Boris Johnson, as incoming Prime Minister, seems to be within his rights to do this now, even though he was barely confirmed as PM before Parliament broke up for the summer. But what he has done is ensured that Parliament will be suspended in the lead up to the third date set for Brexit, a date which he has consistently said is fixed: Oct 31st. Parliament will sit for one week (starting next Tuesday, 3rd September) followed by the suspension. MPs will return for the Queen’s speech on 14th October. There is a crucial European summit on 17th, after which there will be little room – and even less time –  for manoeuvre.

The day before the suspension, there was an all-party meeting to discuss Opposition strategy for blocking a No-Deal Brexit. They have overcome their differences and shifted their focus from a No Confidence vote to a legislative approach, they were pleased to inform us on the evening news. No rebel Tories showed up at this meeting, although we are assured that there are several and that they will tip the balance against Boris Johnson,  his Cabinet, and the enabling support of the DUP.

Meanwhile, the Privy council was moving secretly towards Balmoral and the delivery of Johnson’s request to the Queen to set the mid-October date for her speech.  The news broke on Wednesday morning with a letter BJ sent to MPs informing them of the new Parliamentary timetable.

Cue: outrage all round. People are furious at what they see as a fundamentally anti-democratic manoeuvre, preventing Parliament from exercising its role and duty of holding the Government to account and doing so at a time of national crisis. Critics include the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who called it a constitutional outrage. As did Philip Hammond, senior Tory and, under Theresa May’s government, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Arlene Foster welcomed the move. Well, why wouldn’t she, when her own Legislative Assembly has been suspended for so long it looks as though Direct Rule could return to the North?

Even on the streets (in London) people are talking about this suspension (“prorogation”) of Parliament. They talk about a constitutional crisis, and wonder what it means.  The UK doesn’t have a written Constitution as such but it does have a legal framework and long tradition underpinning its legislative and political systems. It’s confusing when politicians talk about ripping up the constitution when there is no such document; but when they refer to a constitutional crisis, this is what they mean: tradition and law find themselves, like the rest of us, in uncharted waters when it comes to Brexit. The limitations of the referendum versus its result; the significance of the outcome; the lies that were told beforehand; questionable sources of – and mechanisms for distributing – funding; Theresa May’s approach to negotiating a deal and all the sorry failures that followed; extension after extension.

But whatever anyone thinks about TM’s approach, it has to be said that she showed up in the Commons, day after punishing day, and faced her critics and her accusers, standing sometimes for 2  or 3 hours through gruelling, marathon sessions of question and insult. In Europe, she cut a lonely figure among all those jocular, backslapping handshaking leaders but she went back, over and over again. She made me think of Michael Collins, sent by DeValera on his futile, fatal errand. Boris Johnson has been called a coward: his approach to criticism appears to be to choke it off at source.

On the other hand, many Leave supporters think he has taken a bold, decisive step and simply outsmarted his opponents. And it has to be said that many people don’t care. They’re either indifferent to politics or they want whoever is in charge to get on with it and bring the uncertainty to an end.

***

In the late afternoon the crowd at the gates of Downing Street were no bigger than the usual group of tourists with their cameras – the only odd feature was a young woman sitting on the pavement with a notebook, intoning poetry I assumed to be her own, like a biblical message: “Lance the wound …” She was so deeply engrossed in her declamatory trance, it wasn’t in me to interrupt and ask her what she was doing or why, although later I really wished I had.

There was more action up at the Cabinet Office, where a small group of EU standard bearers had gathered, along with a man in a clown suit wearing an unflattering BoJo mask with an inflatable frankfurter-like nose. Occasional shouts erupted.  Occasional jeers were offered by passing Leavers. At one stage, a standard bearer came out to exchange insults with one of these, but the police were there instantly to break it all up, before retreating to their unobtrusive but watchful position. A woman called Sinéad who wears an Irish flag (I’ve seen her before, she tries to come to the protests every day after work) has an EU beret on. I’ve tried to find one before with no luck. She tells me I can get them online but as it happens I buy one later from a People’s Vote person, it’s a fundraiser for the Remain campaign.

The crowds thicken after 5.  Parliament Square fills up. A coalition of left-wing groups have called a protest rally. They’re in Abingdon Green first, but Lib Dem and People’s Vote placards are there too.  Bollocks to Brexit stickers are back, bigger and more vivid than they were before. Dick-tator! Declares one placard.  Stop the madness, pleads another – and: This is Bigger than Brexit.The word fascist is in the air. There’s a cardboard cutout of Mosley at the gate leading into the Commons. There are many shocked-looking people who might never have been around these protests before. The speakers describe their own anger and ask the crowd to share it. It’s time to get angry, they say. It’s time to show it. There are new chants: Stop the Coup! Some passers-by are hostile. “Why do we have to put up with this?”  I heard one young man ask. Fucksake! is in the air too. Those tossers again. The crowd swells and spills over onto the pavement;  people mass at the barriers across the road as well. Parliament Square fills up. The helicopters (police or media?) will be there until late.  Next week, when Parliament returns, will be fiery.

The Welsh Assembly (Wales voted to Leave) has been recalled. In Scotland (which voted to Remain), Nicola Sturgeon called BJ a Tin Pot dicator and said this was a dark day for UK democracy and that BJ’s action has brought Scottish Independence closer.  I wonder about that. Has anyone considered the effect of introducing a European border to the land mass that is Great Britain?

Both sides are adamant:  this is either a cynical manoeuvre to disrupt the democratic process, or it is a perfectly normal application of parliamentary tradition. Tory spokespersons are insisting that they don’t see anything wrong with prorogation now. The opposition have had plenty of time to act before now. This is normal practice, they claim. Perfectly legal.

It may be legal, but is it honest, decent, truthful?

There are legal challenges afoot already. One in Scotland, led by Joanna Cherry and another here in London by Gina Miller.

Walking away from the protest … was that Offred I saw retreating around a corner?

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6 Responses to Suspension of UK Parliament, August 2019 (1)

  1. grainnemhaol says:

    The circus continues. Living 45 minutes north of the the Irish/UK border, soon (probably) to be the land border between the UK and EU, I am trying to keep calm and resist the urge to pray to a higher power that I know isn’t real. It’s just us, trapped like muddy peasants waiting for the local warlords to move on. Most voters in Britain forget we even exist in Northern Ireland, and the place hardly feels part of their country to them anyway. My Remainer English sister-in-law, just after the referendum which started the descent into chaos, was appalled that the border problem had not featured in the Remain campaign: “Why didn’t we hear about this?” We know that nobody loves or wants us. We are unattractive to both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement gave us a wonderful breathing space and is now being disregarded. Arlene Foster and the DUP voted against it in the first place and would be happy to see it go. I’m reading Diarmuid Ferriter’s The Border, and finding it’s been like this since Partition. We are an anomaly and always have been. I have a deepening sense of dread.

    • libranwriter says:

      Grainne, British ignorance of the politics and history of Ireland, North and South has been the biggest shock of this whole shambolic saga for me. The injustice of the North’s situation has been distorted by the participation of the DUP in Westminster and the absence/silence of Sinn Féin. Politics has failed us all. But since the Good Friday Agreement, relationships have developed and strengthened between individuals, groups and organisations across the border. We all have to work to keep those connections alive. On the morning that the shock result (of the referendum) was announced, I was talking to a friend in Belfast and we agreed we have to keep the border porous; that phrase was everywhere for a while, then dissipated in the torpor of long drawn-out wrangling in Westminster. Now I think we have to bring it back and live by it. It’s not true that ‘nobody loves or wants’ the North. We’re part of each other, North and South. Family, with all the difficulties and potential joys THAT can bring. Time to work consciously towards redeveloping those links and connections?

  2. WalkingCommentary says:

    Misdirection seems to be a key tool of the new Prime Minister. The slothful Churchillian appearance may be yet another mask. Consider Henry VIII’s schism after he decided that England could be self-sufficient. In an uncertain period, often labelled by the major religious reforms of the time, a very wealthy Henry VIII had taken on the most powerful man in the world, Charles V, King of Spain. Henry’s attempt to annul his marriage Charles’ aunt, Catherine of Aragon, challenged the King who was also Holy Roman Emperor with a big voice in Rome. The defeat of that challenge from England set in train a religious Brexit. Perhaps the new PM sees England as self-sufficient and is prepared to add Offa’s Dyke and a new Hadrian’s Wall to the hard borders discussion.

    • libranwriter says:

      I hadn’t thought of the religious divorce as precedent – look at all the mayhem that followed THAT. Henry VIII won that battle and enriched himself enormously in the process …

  3. phylherberthotmailcom says:

    Brilliant account Lia of the circus playing out at the House of Parliament yesterday. .

    • libranwriter says:

      Thanks Phyl. It was amazing, how quickly people gathered – considering it’s still officially summer and most MPs aren’t in town until next week. That’s when the tensions are likely to increase. Interesting times.

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