We wake to breaking news this Wednesday that Boris Johnson will ask the Queen to prorogue Parliament.
This is, and let’s be clear about it, an attack on parliamentary democracy in Britain. Since the Glorious Revolution in the 17th century sovereignty in Britain has rested with the Crown in Parliament. The government needs to gain a majority in Parliament in order to rule. But because this Prime Minister can’t get Parliament to do his bidding he has decided to suspend Parliament. Britain is a deeply divided country. This move puts the Queen in a political position, at the very centre of a massive controversy- a position that she doesn’t want to take and has avoided taking for all of her reign. Thus, Johnson, that great monarchist, undermines the monarchy. It could strengthen moves for independence in Scotland and therefore break up the union, despite Johnson being a great unionist. And it could open up civil disturbance in the country – already major mass protests are planned for this evening.
I have said elsewhere that the economic model followed in Britain has enriched the few at the expense of the many. This is due to the economic policy of the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats has supported this policy when they were in government with the Conservatives. This economic policy has already failed when the international banking system collapsed over 10 years ago. Doubling down on it, by making Britain some form of European Singapore, will not work. Singapore is no place to be poor.
More and more people are seeking an alternative through different parties and political philosophies. It is this economic problem that is driving the instability that we see in the United Kingdom today. Brexit, indeed, is an expression of it, with concerns about immigration to the fore. Concerns about immigration are primarily, but not exclusively, economic. Rather than tackle these concerns and knuckle down to reducing poverty, Johnson is instead wrapping himself in the flag, and playing the strongman. As Pat Rabbitte once said, that won’t butter any parsnips.
There are remainers and supporters of brexit in both the Conservative and the Labour parties. Jeremy Corbyn has put his colours to the mast recently. He has pledged his party to bring down this government and install himself as a caretaker Prime Minister in order to stop a no deal brexit and prepare for new elections. He has proposed that a future Labour government would offer the people in a popular vote the opportunity for a vote to remain in the EU. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn, this is a reasonable proposal. When you are preparing to jump off a cliff, it’s reasonable to take one last look over the edge.
But enough of the shoulds, and back to the real world. What could happen now in British politics? If the Labour Party could get the opposition parties plus the remain Conservative MPs to back their move then it could be possible to stop a no deal brexit. But would those brexit Labour MPs back their party or would they put brexit ahead of party loyalty? The answer to this question will determine whether this ploy will succeed or fail. Many Labour MPs, remember, sit in seats that voted leave, and they have the Brexit Party breathing down their necks. Add to this the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is seen as too left wing for some remainers, and they may be reluctant to ally with him, for fear of their own, more Tory-friendly, seats.
It could be possible to get the opposition parties and remain Conservatives to stop a no deal brexit. But if the Liberal Democrats and remain Conservatives don’t want to deal with the Labour leadership then this government will remain in office. The success of this move by the Labour leadership will depend on the remain MPs in the other parties supporting the Labour leadership. It would also depend on Corbyn keeping the brexit Labour MPs onside too.
In other words, MPs who wish to stop a no-deal Brexit must actively risk losing their seats.
But they should not base their actions on that risk alone. After all, in 2016 it was assumed that the Conservatives would enhance their majority and that Labour would lose many seats. That did not, in the end, happen. A Tory Government that has failed to deliver Brexit will be assailed by the Brexit Party. MPs who vote to stop Brexit will be rewarded by remain voters.
The risk is great, but it should be taken. In Ireland, we can only hope that it is.