The Sunday Times reports,
This is some new meaning of the word “unity” not previously known to me. I do not believe I am alone in preferring the honest fanatic Jeremy Corbyn to John Bercow.
Jeremy Corbyn has privately told allies that he will step aside and allow someone else to become prime minister if Boris Johnson is forced from power.
Sources say the Labour leader has concluded that he would not win the support needed to lead a government of national unity. Corbyn has signalled to allies that he might support another candidate as long as it is not a Labour or Conservative MP.
John Bercow, a Tory MP before becoming Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009, has emerged as the Labour leader’s favoured compromise candidate after he ruled out Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who was expelled from the Tories last month.
I suspect that this is a trial balloon designed to make Jeremy Corbyn look good by comparison, but if John Bercow does “emerge” his way into being Prime Minister it will make his decisions made as Speaker during the last three years look as if they were nothing but a conspiracy to gain power, a process of emergence from the shadows brought to the threshold of completion by his recent meeting with the EU’s President-of-whichever-bit-of-the-EU-he’s-president-of, David Sassoli.
Senior Government figures are considering a series of proposals to “sabotage” the EU’s structures if Brussels refuses to agree a new deal or let Mr Johnson deliver Brexit without one.
Two Cabinet ministers told this newspaper that they were among those backing a more “aggressive” approach towards Brussels.
It is understood that plans under discussion include blocking the EU’s 2021-27 budget, which is due to be agreed early next year, and nominating a British commissioner who would cause disruption within their portfolio.
Senior ministers discussed the prospect of sending Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, to take up the role.
The Independent‘s John Rentoul is scarcely likely to be happy at what the latest poll by Opinium says, but dutifully tweeted it anyway:
Opinium poll for Observer, Cons back to 15-pt lead:
Con 38% +2
Lab 23% -1
Lib Dem 15% -5
Brexit 12% +1
Green 4% +2
2,006 UK adults 3-4 Oct, change since last week
So after all those Remain victories in Parliament and the courts, Boris Johnson’s Tories are slightly more popular and the Liberal Democrats are significantly less popular? How can this be?
When leaders represent the will of the people – and the laws they are breaking are illegitimate or undemocratic – violating them is nearly always justified in retrospect. As it would be in this case. The Benn Act became law earlier this month because of the connivance of the unconstitutionally partial Speaker, John Bercow. When he allowed the Opposition to pass legislation in Government time against the will of the PM and his Cabinet, 300 years of constitutional precedent was overturned.
The Benn Act was a very English form of coup d’etat, orchestrated by an anti-Brexit faction in Parliament to subvert the clearly expressed will of the people. It is, therefore, necessary for Boris to break it to restore the proper constitutional relationship between Government, Parliament and people.
It doubtless seemed clever to challenge prorogation in Scotland; Scots law differs much from English and their chance of victory was higher. However I can think of two audiences in Scotland who may be unimpressed.
(South of the border there is a huge third audience whom I expect to be very unimpressed, but that is another matter.)
Firstly, a Scot does not need to be unusually honest or unusually lacking in nationalism to wonder how exactly to defend the Scottish supreme court’s ruling on the United Kingdom’s parliament. Every Scot can defend Scotland’s supreme court bullying the MSP’s who sit in the 11-times-over-budget building at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, but I’m not the only Scot who “couldna juist charge his memory” over why the propriety of a Westminster-affecting act is being ruled on by a provincial court. (There will be some justification, of course – but, in the words of “1066 and all that”, it will not be memorable.)
Secondly, her majesty is in Scotland for the summer, as usual. Also as usual, she has prorogued parliament. It is something she’s accustomed to doing every year at roughly this time for roughly this length of time – but which May did not advise her to do last year during a session whose length was unprecedented in three centuries.
Many a PM has noted how their meetings with the Queen, unlike their meetings with their loyal cabinet colleagues, do not leak. I have no idea whether, after Boris performed his constitutional duty to inform and advise her majesty of prorogation, she chose her constitutional duty of ‘warn’ instead of her constitutional duty of ‘advise’ – but it seems at first glance unlikely she ‘warned’ against something whose unprecedented feature was how long it had been since she’d last done it.
I therefore conjecture that her majesty may think the Scottish supreme court’s action ill-advised rather than her own.
As this ruling is mere PR skirmishing before the UK’s supreme court rules (IIUC, it has no actual effect in itself), it seems to me that the remoaners are again paying a high PR price for a stunt that will play well with themselves but with not so many beyond. The court that travestied historical custom to rule for Gina Miller in 2016 is not the strongest oak for leavers to lean against, but it is being said the case has “no hope” in English law. I hope that’s true, but I anyway think that remoaner lawfare victories have a cost they underestimate.
Parliament demands to see all the private messages sent between nine advisers since 23 July relating to the prorogation of parliament (or to Yellowhammer), claiming there might be constitutional issues.
Suppose Boris demands to see all private messages sent between remoaners and the EU, under a similar claim?
Of course, it may not matter in either direction.
– On the one hand, even May only yielded to a similar demand after parliament, in a second vote, held her in contempt (one of the few sentiments I share with them). In Boris’ case, such a vote cannot now happen for weeks – and if it finally does, he might ignore it anyway. Meanwhile, he may exploit the humour of insisting that EU law (GDPR and/or similar) means he cannot comply. It makes an obvious introduction to a speech echoing Churchill on how the 1930s parliaments were
“adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent”
– On the other hand, Boris may already know whatever a counter-demand could tell him. In the days before Corbyn became its leader, instead of the kind of backbencher that worried its leaders, the Labour establishment, whenever it won an election, was delighted to discover that the UK security services were keeping an eye on their wilder backbenchers (whom they could then head off from their wilder antics before public embarrassment ensued). I don’t see Barnier and friends as the men to keep secrets, despite their passionate belief that there are many things the masses do not need to know, still less decide on.
So I’m more interested in the ‘why’. Mostly, I’m assuming (and hoping) that it’s just a standard insolent PC establishment fishing expedition.
“Perhaps the outrage over the fact that Parliament is to be prorogued – something that normally happens at about this time each year – tells us more about the Remainiac establishment’s state of mind coming to terms with Brexit, than it does about our constitution?” Douglas Carswell
If you want to insist that something that “normally happens at about this time each year” (and is now, abnormally, a year overdue) is an unconstitutional outrage then you need to gather a lot of material to have a chance of finding something you can misrepresent.
However – although I would be glad to think otherwise – it is just possible that the people who are so sure they are the clever ones found themselves on Monday feeling the need of some intelligence. Last week, 102 amendments were tabled to help time out the wrecking act in the Lords – standard parliamentary tactics which the remoaners well understood. But then No. 10 said, “Don’t bother – go get a good night’s sleep”. (Other ways of timing it out or delaying it were likewise left unexplored.)
As regards public opinion, I can see the benefits.
– Now, not just the remoaners but Labour – and Corbyn personally – are incredibly on record: no letting the public decide, no election, and in Corbyn’s case, no more plausible pretence of being different, still less of being brave, but just doing what Tony Blair and the spin doctors tell him like a good party hack.
– Boris, by contrast, now has the perfect out for the negotiations. If he’d negotiated for 5 weeks without the EU-advised act shouting “ignore him” to the EU negotiators, then failure to present a Canada++ deal on October the 14th would be something he’d have to explain. Now, he can throw it in parliament’s face (which won’t bother them but will destroy any traction they might otherwise have had with the public). If he already felt sure the EU’s stubborness meant we’d have to leave before they’d negotiate for real, it was very much in his interest to have the act to blame. And if he already felt sure he’d have to leave on absolute no-deal to reel in the Brexit voters or ally with The Brexit Party, it was wise to make that parliament’s fault, not his choice in rejecting some no-backstop-but-still-smells-fishy deal.
Remoaners and Corbynites may not realise just how big a political price they have paid, but they surely know they need their procedural win to be a real win on October 31st to make it worth it. I hope they feel lazily sure they have Brexit boxed in and it’s all over bar the shouting – that’s their rhetoric – but is it possible that, as Monday progressed, they found themselves really wanting to know what the despised Dominic thought and why Boris didn’t sound more panicked?
(Of course, they’re not alone in that. 🙂 )
It is said of Obama that his every promise had an expiration date. That way of phrasing it seems almost too kind – as if each promise once had value and then lost it after it expired. Some promises are only ever meant to be believed – they are never meant to be kept.
MPs of all UK-wide parties voted to hold the Brexit referendum – but for many, the promise to leave the EU if Leave won was only ever meant to justify remaining in ever closer union when Remain won. The believe that we would have left had Leave won was expected to have great value – to remainers after Remain won, justifying their putting an end to the carping criticism of a minority of MPs and those stupid voters. “We’d have left if you’d won, so shut up” was to be the essence of politics thereafter.
Now, after both major parties campaigned in 2017 on a promise to honour the result, blood has finally been squeezed from a stone – and promises they do mean to keep from Remoaners. Their bill is astonishingly frank (for them) in its determination to give power over Brexit to the EU. Their refusal of an election makes equally explicit their intense desire not to give that power to UK voters. The difficulty of defeating the deep state is that they will not openly stand to fight and so risk being beaten. It’s a sign of how much has been achieved that people so given to deceit are being so open.
I hope Boris, Dominic and others have foreseen, and are masters of, the procedural and constitutional technicalities needed in the next few days between now and prorogation. But, however that turns out, I think their enemies too caught up in this fight to see beyond it. They imagine that, if they can only delay leaving forever, they can get us back to the grudging attitude of a few years ago, when most people did not like the EU but most thought it was as inevitable as bad weather, and was merely an add-on to Britain, not a replacement. I think their own antics are ensuring that that particular Humpty-Dumpty cannot be put back together again.
Finally, Parliament gets treated with the contempt it richly deserves.
And now more than ever, we will need the Brexit Party to keep a political knife to Boris Johnson’s throat, or the most likely last minute result will be a sell-out ‘deal’ that delivers the utterly appalling Withdrawal Agreement (“Whether you’re a Brexiteer or Remainer, this is a deal that a nation signs only after having been defeated at war. This is not a deal fit for purpose for any sovereign country.”), probably minus the distraction of the backstop.
Oh, the growlings and the howlings now that Boris Johnson – for which read Dominic Cummings – has asked the Queen to suspend Parliament.
Bercow: “I have had no contact from the Government, but if the reports that it is seeking to prorogue Parliament are confirmed, this move represents a constitutional outrage.”
Corbyn: “…an outrage and a threat to our democracy”.
Sturgeon: “This simply cannot be allowed to happen.”
Tory chairman James Cleverly blandly says that it is merely that the Government seeks “to hold a Queen’s Speech, just as all new Governments do”, but is not fooling anyone and does not seem greatly troubled by that.
It is an audacious move, and it is indeed constitutionally unprecedented. But that’s the thing about breaking precedent; once broken it stays broken. Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn and Nick Boles were all happy to dispense with Parliamentary precedent in March. Bercow smirked while he betrayed his office to let them do it. Many warned them at the time that what they had done their opponents could also do. They went ahead anyway. And now they find themselves in the position described in a famous quote from A Man for all Seasons, that of having cut a great road through the law to get at the devil only to find that the devil has turned round on them and there is nowhere to hide, the laws all being flat.