On the 28thAugust, the Queen formally gave consent to Boris Johnson and his government to suspend Parliament from no later than the 12thSeptember until the 14thOctober 2019. Johnson’s inventive plan is the latest tactic from his aggressively pro-Brexit government to push through a so-called ‘No-Deal Exit’ with the minimum of input from Parliament, most notably the elected House of Commons. However, in the government’s haste to push through our long-delayed and dramatic exit from Europe, have they risked the legitimacy of the Brexit trope, of their own position in government and undermined the foundations of UK Parliamentary democracy?
Well, the short answer is yes. The last bastion of hard-line Brexit-at-any-cost support lies on the tired and well-overused concept of the will of the people. Three years ago, just under 52% of the voting population decided to leave the European Union. In those three years, many of us have watched in horror, indifference and with growing scepticism as our political system became an arena in which career politicians fought for power, using untruths, sweeping generalisations and veiled discrimination and hate propaganda to get to the top.
As the realities of a Britain without a harmonious relationship with its closest economic neighbour have set in, it is palpable that, for many, their view of Brexit – its implementation or even its continuation at all – has changed beyond recognition. It is also clear then that the ‘will of the people’ trope is a flimsy and meaningless soundbite that has about as much legitimacy as Boris Johnson’s democratic mandate (decided by just a small number of Conservative party members).
For it is Parliament, not the government, who are the supreme legislators in the United Kingdom. The democratically elected House of Commons acts as a check on governmental policy to ensure that the whole of the electorate have their say. The government remains accountable to Parliament for their actions, and only Acts of Parliament themselves are completely unchallengeable. For Johnson and his government to suspend this power and oversight over the biggest political manoeuvre attempted by this Island in recent times shows a gross ignorance to the political system of which he and his government is a major constituent part.
For Johnson, it is clear that deference is dead. His deference to Parliament and his deference to the position of our constitutional monarch who was (rightly or wrongly) obliged by convention to consent to his advice on suspension. This is a dangerous outlook for any world leader. It sets a dangerous precedent in which unpopular policies can be pushed through by out-of-touch and self-serving politicians.
It also sets the tone for Johnson’s own tenure as Prime Minister. He has cast himself as the modern Churchill figure. One that is controversial, outwardly adversarial, patriotic but as someone who gets the job done. What he fails to have recognised is that we don’t live in that time anymore. The days of paternalistic government control are over. The electorate are no longer satisfied by grand speeches, entertaining gaffes and British iconography. We want substance, we want to be listened to and we want accountability. All things which, sadly, Boris Johnson lacks.
What the outcome of a No-Deal Brexit may be, nobody really knows. What is for sure however is that Johnson does not intend to speak for the people, nor play by the rules. That may be okay in the playground at Eton, Mr Johnson, but it has no place in No 10, nor in Britain.
Words by Joey Lewin