Axe the PM?
Kent Barker wonders if Boris Johnson shouldn’t turn the pages of his history book back to the 17th century if he wants to keep a head.
Pity poor John Ashburnham and Nicholas Eversfield. Elected as MPs for Hastings in 1628 only to find the doors to the House of Commons barred to them for the next 11 years.
They had been unfortunate enough to be sent to Westminster at the beginning of the gravest constitutional crisis in British history – leading to civil war and, finally, regicide. And all because the executive ignored the will of parliament and pushed ahead with its own agenda.
The parallels are there for all to see. I’m not suggesting that if Boris prorogues parliament before 31st October, thus ensuring no-deal Brexit happens by default, actual civil war will ensue. It might not.
Charles Stuart succeeded his father James to the throne in 1625 and was immediately at odds with parliament over money. The legislature refused to provide the King with the finances to prosecute a European war, and Charles countered by trying to raise revenue through a ‘forced loan’ – a tax levied without parliamentary consent. MPs vigorously opposed the move, so Charles simply closed the parliamentary sessions, first in 1728, and then again the following year.
The King refused to summon parliament again until 1740, eleven years later. And then there was a complete stalemate. So, Charles again prorogued parliament, and within two years. Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces were battling the Royalists in the first skirmishes of the Civil War. Seven years later still, on 30 January 1649, Charles was beheaded in Whitehall.
The comparisons with today are not, of course, exact; when Prime Minister Johnson succeeded to his post, he was immediately at odds with the majority of parliament. Maybe not yet over war finances.
If the speculation is right and he does prorogue Parliament for a general election over the Halloween Brexit deadline, you can certainly expect to see the Commons, and probably the Lords too using every possible device to re-exert their power over the executive. It will be a bitter and bloody constitutional battle, though one I doubt will culminate in Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson climbing the scaffold in Whitehall. Though with his Home Secretary having publically supported the reintroduction of capital punishment, who knows?
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