In an attempt to woo supporters in his prime ministerial leadership bid, Boris Johnson made it clear to backbench Tory MPs that he was ‘not attracted to archaic procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament’; preferring to seek ‘consensus in the House of Commons’. Little over a month into his premiership, his real attraction to the arcane reared its ugly head. Palpable, almost touchable, is the air of deceit that now hangs over the steps of Downing Street.
The government claims that the suspension is just business as usual, that this is just a normal precedent of an unwritten constitution. True, suspending parliament is not, in and of itself, uncommon. The Queen’s Speech is used as a way of setting forth the legislative priorities of a government and yes, some in the opposition parties did, in fact, want a new session of Parliament to be called.
But let me be very clear: this suspension is not business as usual. Disingenuous is the suggestion that there is ‘nothing to see here’. The government will argue that this is nothing more than making room for a Queen’s speech when they have made known their real intentions of suspending Parliament for months. They cannot command the support of the House in favour of a no-deal Brexit, and they know it.
Never in the past 40 years has Parliament been suspended for three weeks. The government will defend the length of the suspension by saying that it covers the party conference season – when MPs wouldn’t sit anyway. Yet this completely ignores the fervent calls of parliamentarians who, by refusing to go to party conferences, want to make as much time as possible to stop no-deal.
Instead of giving ample time to legislate against a disastrous no-deal exit, Johnson’s prorogation has forced the country’s elected representatives into a position where they are expected to put up and shut up. Locking the doors of Parliament to restrict and evade accountability is, quite simply, an affront to democracy. For a government that has only been in power for just over a month, headed by an executive elected by only 0.13% of the nation, this suspension represents a gross centralisation of power away from a sovereign parliament and into the grubby paws of a few cabinet ministers and advisors.
Critics of prorogation passionately argue that such an action sets a dangerous precedent, especially under a system in which constitutional action is largely based on convention. A couple of months ago Sajid Javid was ardent it wasn’t possible to ‘‘deliver on democracy by trashing democracy’’. As were Amber Rudd, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove.
A couple of months later and they are now remaining tight-lipped, taking their ministerial salary, as they all uphold the Johnsonian fantasy that there is nothing to see here. If they are so insistent that suspending Parliament goes against their beliefs then they should resign. Are they going to? We all know the answer.
Image: MATT LINK