USING the general rule of thumb that anything that reduces John Bercow, Dominic Grieve and Hugh Grant to howling, impotent rage has to be a good thing, it is tempting to welcome the proroguing of Parliament and think little more of it.
But the level of unhinged hysteria over the last few days demands attention in the same way a screaming toddler demands a lollipop so – despite the earache – let’s have a look at the arguments that the Prime Minister’s actions this week represent an unconstitutional coup d’état.
By planning the Queen’s Speech for October 14, Boris Johnson has been denounced as a “tin-pot dictator” who is running a “fascist coup” to illegally seize power and shut down our democratic parliament.
There have been petitions, demonstrations, calls for civil disobedience and a general strike, comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, and even dark threats against the Queen for acquiescing to the Prime Minister’s request to suspend Parliament (as she is constitutionally required to do).
The “Waitrose Revolution” is in full cry, marching under the stirring call to arms of “Who is going to serve our coffee in Prêt?”
People who have quite happily given away Parliament’s sovereign power to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels for the last 40 years have suddenly discovered that they like democracy after all! Wonders will never cease. But what of the actual arguments? Let’s look at them in turn.
“Proroguing Parliament is a constitutional outrage that hasn’t happened since the reign of Charles I.”
No, Parliament is usually prorogued every year before the Queen’s Speech. The current monarch has done so dozens of times. The exception has been the last two years, making the current Parliamentary session the longest since the Civil Wars of the 1640s.
Labour has been demanding a new Queen’s Speech for months. Now it has got what it wanted.
“The Government is shutting Parliament down to stop opposition to Brexit.”
No, Parliament was already due to be “shut down” to allow MPs to attend their autumn party conferences. The Government’s proposals will result in Parliament not sitting for three additional days.
What do MPs think they could achieve in those three days that they have not achieved in the last three years?
“By shutting down Parliament the Government is stopping MPs from scrutinising Brexit.”
No, MPs have ample time in both September and October to challenge the Government. In that time Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could put forward a motion of no confidence and, if the Remainers have the numbers, they could depose Johnson and form an alternative government. That’s how our democracy works.
“There’s no mandate for a no-deal Brexit.”
Yes, there is. In March 2017 MPs voted by 498 to 114 to trigger Article 50, which means we leave the EU, deal or no-deal. They then voted three times against Theresa May’s deal agreed with the EU. If we do end up with no-deal, the Remainers who voted against the only available deal have only themselves to blame.
Johnson is playing three-dimensional chess, while his opponents are struggling to understand the rules of tiddlywinks. He is deliberately throwing his opponents off balance and trying to limit their time and room for manoeuvre.
That’s politics, folks, but there is nothing “unconstitutional” about it.
What happens next? I think Johnson and his team will continue to push hard for a new exit deal with the EU – and already there are signs of significant softening of opposition to this in Berlin and Paris.
If they get a deal, it won’t look much different from May’s deal but without the Irish backstop. My belief is sufficient MPs will vote for Johnson’s deal.
This will infuriate some Brexiteers, but Johnson will have fulfilled his promise to leave the EU on Halloween and will be in a good position come the next general election, which surely can’t be far away.
Either way this is politics as normal – the only “constitutional outrage” on display is by those who lost a democratic vote and who have refused for more than three years to accept the result.