The Great Dictator
On the 28th of August, Boris Johnson announced his intention to prorogue parliament from the 9th September until the 14th October, shortly after parliament was due to resume from summer recess and two weeks before the Brexit deadline.
In a letter to MPs Johnson wrote, “This morning I spoke to Her Majesty The Queen to request an end to the current parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September, before commencing the second session of this parliament with a Queen’s speech on Monday, 14 October. A central feature of the legislative programme will be the government’s number one legislative priority, if a new deal is forthcoming at EU Council, to introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill and move at pace to secure its passage before 31 October.”
This move greatly inhibits plans by a coalition of opposition parties to prevent a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and greatly increases the possibility of a vote of no-confidence in the government. Jeremy Corbyn had recently given ground to other parties by offering to use parliamentary mechanisms to prevent a no-deal Brexit without a vote of no-confidence; but without this option a vote of no confidence leading to a general election seems far more likely.
The move has drawn criticism from all quarters including from within the Conservative Party. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, is at the time of writing considering her position.
Amber Rudd, our local MP, posted on Twitter: “Ruth Davidson is a wonderful talent and person, and we owe her a tremendous debt for turning our fortunes around in Scotland. Our Party is a better one with her in it and I hope she will continue to contribute to public life.”
In conversation with the journalist Sophy Ridge earlier this year Rudd had said, “The idea of leaving the European Union in order to take back more control into parliament, and to consider closing parliament in order to deal with that, is the most extraordinary idea I’ve ever heard.”
She went on to say the move would be “absolutely outrageous”, and that it, “is a ridiculous suggestion to consider proroguing parliament.” On another occasion she compared such a move to the actions of the ‘Stuart kings’. For over 24 hours her Twitter feed has remained conspicuously silent on the matter.
During the Conservative Party leadership election Sajid Javid said of suspending parliament, “You don’t deliver on democracy by trashing democracy. We are not selecting a dictator of our country.”
On the international stage, President Trump tweeted in support of the Prime Minister, “Would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to seek a no-confidence vote against New Prime Minister Boris Johnson, especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for, & will prove to be “a great one!” Love U.K.”
In response Corbyn wrote, “I think what the US president is saying, is that Boris Johnson is exactly what he has been looking for, a compliant Prime Minister who will hand Britain’s public services and protections over to US corporations in a free trade deal.”
There has been speculation by pundits that the move is part of a strategy in order to bring about a general election. In which, having placed Brexit in peril, Johnson can play the role of a champion of the people, delivering on the referendum result; in this election he is likely to cast opposition parties as elite politicians trying to frustrate and prevent the ‘will of the people.’
Defenders of the move will point out that suspending parliament for a Queen’s Speech is part of ordinary parliamentary procedure, this proroguing is only an extension of this process, context removed. The trouble with suspending democracy, even to enforce another form of democracy, is that when people accumulate power, they are unaccustomed to giving it back. A coup to seize control of the legislature, even if promised as temporary, has been the start of many dictatorships. After which we can expect heavy investment in law enforcement and the military, but very little investment in public services and mass privatisation via a US trade deal.
This centralised and autocratic form of government, headed by a hitherto unelected and dictatorial leader, who has used demonisation of the ‘other’, economic regimentation and the suspension of democracy to supress opposition, is the literal definition of fascism.
This is not the only possible future outcome. It is one worth paying serious consideration to and calling out at every step of the way.
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