They are locking the doors of Westminster Palace

10th September 2019

So the prime minister has done it.

Boris Johnson has now locked the doors of parliament for five weeks in the short lead up to the UK’s set departure from the EU.

Actually closed down parliament, so as to prevent his government being scrutinised by the people’s representatives.

Not much one can add to that, but it is so dark and sad a fact that it warranted a post just for itself.


31 thoughts on “They are locking the doors of Westminster Palace”

  1. In his resignation speech the speaker reminded us that parliament is “..a wonderful place, filled overwhelmingly by people who are motivated […] by their perception of the public good, and by their duty – not as delegates, but as representatives”. This distinction is so often forgotten by those acting as though democracy flows in an unmediated form through the “people”. Thats not the way we do things. Ours is a parliamentary democracy and its voice has been silenced.

  2. Morning David,
    Perhaps you could comment on the chances of Johnson legally wiggling out of the Benn amendment and refusing to request an extension of the 31 October 2019 cliff edge. I assume you have the full text. I would imagine he might simply elect to do nothing and it will require a mandamus* from a High Court to force him to act. Time is however extremely limited.
    Best wishes,

    *Not sure if the UK legal system uses this terminolgy

  3. What will happen if Miller et al. succeed in the Supreme Court? And how (if at all) does Parliament’s decision on Grieve’s bill feed into this? Dark days indeed.

  4. Notification of this blog post arrived in my email in inbox, in tandem with a government response to the ‘Don’t prorogue parliament’ petition. The latter email is an interminable spiel, apparently hijacked by Johnson and his goons, that briefly explains the prorogue, before morphing into a bizarre political spiel that mentions 20,000 additional police (presumably to supplement the troops who will be on the streets keeping order, post Brexit) and the NHS hospital upgrades (to accommodate the people who will fall ill as a result of being unable to easily obtain medication, flu shots, and so on, in a timely manner).

    We live in a representative democracy. What does one do when a portion of our elected representatives resemble, in appearance and behaviour, a gang of tooled-up warehouse burglars from an episode of The Sweeney?

    1. I am glad you mentioned that. For those who did not receive it, here is the text:

      Prorogation is a prerogative Act of the Crown, exercised on the advice of Ministers. We must respect the referendum result and the UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances.

      The UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances. We must respect the referendum result.

      Prorogation is a prerogative Act of the Crown, exercised on the advice of Ministers, to bring about the end of the parliamentary session. The royal prerogative is the term used to describe the powers held by Government Ministers, either in their own right, or through the advice they provide to the Queen which she is bound constitutionally to follow. The Government determines the length of a parliamentary session and advises the Queen on the date for the beginning of the next parliamentary session.

      The beginning of the next session is marked by the State Opening of Parliament during which the Queen delivers the Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech sets out the programme of legislation the Government intends to pursue in the forthcoming parliamentary session.

      As the Prime Minister said in his statement on 2 September 2019, the Government has committed to recruiting another 20,000 police officers, improving both NHS and schools funding, and completing 20 new hospital upgrades. It is to progress the Government’s agenda on these and many other fronts that the Prime Minister has sought to commence a new session of Parliament in October.

      Parliament is only dissolved before a General Election. Dissolution brings an end to a Parliament. The effect of a dissolution is all business comes to an end and every seat in the House of Commons is vacated until a General Election is held.

      Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, General Elections are now automatically held every five years and the next general election is scheduled for May 2022. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act removed the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament; no longer can the Prime Minister advise the sovereign to dissolve Parliament and call a General Election.

      The Fixed-term Parliaments Act also provides the basis on which an early General Election can be triggered:

      1. If a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House of Commons or without a vote; or

      2. If a motion of ‘no confidence’, in the terms set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, is passed and no subsequent motion expressing confidence in Her Majesty’s Government is passed by the Commons within 14 days.

      In the event of an early-general election, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act allows the Prime Minister to recommend a suitable polling day to the Queen. There will be a Royal Proclamation to set the date. Parliament is then automatically dissolved 25 working days before polling day.

      The Government would prefer to leave the EU with a deal and will work in an energetic and determined way to get a better deal. The Government is very willing to sit down with the Commission and EU Member States to talk about what needs to be done to achieve that.

      The Prime Minister has said an election needs to take place ahead of the European Council on 17 to 18 October. This would allow the Prime Minister to go to the European Council with a clear mandate from the British people to deliver the referendum result.

      Cabinet Office

      If one of my (law) students produced such a poorly drafted screed it would attract a mark in the 50s (at best). Everything about this government reeks of contempt (for us, the electors).

  5. Thank you for posting this. I think it is important to record for posterity how many people see through the smoke and mirrors being wielded to what is in fact a gross constitutional affront.

  6. It’s dreadful what he has done. But please don’t use the “B” word: it makes him sound fun, amusing and friendly and plays off his TV persona as a light entertainer. Please only ever use Johnson.

  7. Indeed it did, David. Indeed it did.

    Would you be interested in commenting on the comments on another blog post about Brexit? Some of the comments this time deal with legal issues, and reach to my mind the realms or surreality, as it were. A number of the commenters live either in Ireland or England, even though the blog obviously lives in the US, and are in banking, finance, the civil service, or some technical field.

    Here is the link:

    Just asking, though I thought you might find this post of some interest.

  8. The fact that you felt compelled to make this short post speaks volumes. Whatever happens now, the Conservative Party will be forever changed and has lost its moral authority through the actions of its self-serving leader.

  9. “Not much one can add to that”, you say.
    I would add that this a coup d’état, however “soft”, however mitigated by overrated precedents and traditions.

  10. Where does this go from here? Is it a matter for judicial review of administrative action, given that the Prime Minister leads the Executive branch? Or does it fall for consideration as a possible contempt of Parliament, given that Parliament has expressly rejected leaving the EU without a deal? Or both?

  11. Responses from Mr William Shakespeare:
    “A fool think himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Touchstone in As You Like It
    “If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.” Antony in Antony & Cleopatra
    “Th’abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” Brutus on Julius Caesar in Julius Caesar
    “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Macbeth in Macbeth
    “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.” Norfolk to Buckingham in Henry VIII

  12. If this had been a third world tinpot dictatorship we would be recalling our ambassador. Very sad day, not because in and of itself it is likely to change an awful lot, Johnson has been denied the early election that would have allowed him to claim that backing him would have got us a deal – it wouldn’t, but he now has to get that deal, name that tune, before there can be an election and thus he is now having to try and find a solution to Brexit that he knows, at least in terms of keeping his red lines intact, doesn’t exist.

    Unless Cummings, the ERG and the DUP are prepared to accept sub-optimal, then there is nowhere to go and I look forward to watching someone Johnson, (and Cummings) who make me squirm, squirm in turn – that’s quite poetic – as can justice sometimes be!

  13. Responses from Mr William Shakespeare:
    “A fool think himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Touchstone in As You Like It
    “Th’abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” Brutus on Julius Caesar
    “If I lose mine honour, I lose myself.” Antony in Antony & Cleopatra
    “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Macbeth
    “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.” Norfolk in Henry VIII

  14. It’s a dictatorial, thuggish, cowardly act by Boris Johnson, our so called Prime Minister & his so called Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings. If Dominic Grieve is correct, it was enabled by the PM being dishonest with the Queen regarding the reasons for suspension, in order to gain Royal Assent.
    I can only hope that when Parliament reopens, that the Chickens come home to roost and kick this narcissistic, despotic, toddler of a PM and his venomous adviser out, with charges to follow if necessary. That means there needs to be a concerted push to properly kill No Deal Brexit and request an Article 50 extension. Personally I would go for revoking the Article 50 notification, but I suspect we’ll need a Referendum or General Election for that.
    These are depressing times for our Democracy and Parliament. We have to push back and defend our rights now, more than we ever have in the last 40 years. Here’s hoping that John Bercow’s successor is as feisty, democratic and decent as he has been in the house. They’re going to have to be tough and fearless.

  15. What is frightening is that not all dictatorships are established through armed insurrection or military coup; some come about through the ballot box.

  16. There are 3 parts to our state. The Crown, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. All we have in our democracy is the elected house. I might be in the minority, but I am proud of parliament, they have managed to push back bad policies, misrepresented and made for all the wrong reasons.

    However, to allow someone who received 92,153 votes to take power away from our elected representatives, exposes the fundamental flaws in our system.

    It seems clear that Johnson and his cronies are planning to side-step the legislation preventing no-deal. Perhaps by, either vetoing an extension themselves (as the 28th country) or by getting another like-minded nation to do it for him. Perhaps Greece or Italy? With parliament prorogued there will be nothing our elected representatives can do about it.

    No only are the government determined to drive this country off the cliff-edge they are trying to press the accelerator harder.

  17. Or in other words: “a new prime minister does what every other prime minister has done and, in fact has ended the longest parliamentary session since the 17th century.” You do yourself a disservice with such an hysterical post. Political affront, by all means. Constitutional affront? That’s ridiculous and given that we’ve had the high court reject the argument that it’s unconstitutional your post lacks objectivity. Whether it’s an affront depends on where you stand politically and arguably not having a queens speech to lay out a legislative program would be more offensive.

    Prorogation ALWAYS leads to a period where legislation is unscrutinised in the way that you find offensive, whether this prorogation is particularly offensive is for the electorate to decide when we get a general election.

    Your argument cannot be that prorogation should not take place at all; it can only be that it should not take place at this time and that depends where you sit politically.

    Honestly, the most offensive bit about this isn’t the prorogation but the fact that we have a lame duck parliament unable to agree on anything, staggering on like a drunk on his way home convinced that only turning right will eventually fin£ his way home.

    Nothing of the above should suggest that I’m a brexiteer (I’m not) only that hysteria seems to catching at the mo and that’s a bit disturbing.

  18. What particularly baffles me is why MPs left it until Monday afternoon to debate the issue. Wouldn’t a humble address to the Queen, requesting her to rescind the prorogation order, have rendered it constitutionally void?

    As far as I know, no MP made any formal attempt to get the Commons to stop it themselves, yet a number of MPs are challenging it in the courts. Given the centrality of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, how can the courts be expected to overturn it, when the Commons had a week in which to do so itself and didn’t even try?

  19. There are times that I wish I wash still on Twitter or Facebook, and this is one. The ruling today by the Inner House of the Scottish Court of Session is extraordinary. However, I reluctantly have to agree with Stephen Sumption’s take on it and I feel that it would be earth shattering if the Supreme Court next week did anything other than declare that result to be a nullity. The finding of fact that the PM deliberately misled the Queen will not stand, whether or not in reality he did. Though I do fantasise about Her Majesty summoning Boris to Buckingham Palace and dismissing him.

  20. This may seem a tad long, but there is an important point at the end:

    Yesterday the government published an incomplete and inadequate response to the recent “humble address” passed by Parliament to compel it to release “all the documents prepared within Her Majesty’s Government since 23 July 2019 relating to operation Yellowhammer and submitted to the Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee,” as well as completely failing to satisfy the demand to publish communications relating to the prorogation of Parliament.

    We know for sure the Yellowhammer response was incomplete by comparing its contents with the testimony given to the last EU Exit Select Committee session by Michael Gove himself, in which he first denies and then confirms “Absolutely” that the main document in question *does* refer to the “base scenario” (in those words): the words “base scenario” do *not* appear anywhere in the document released. In fact it seems pretty clear that the term “base scenario” has been excised and replaced *in the version released* by the expression “Reasonable Worst Case” in order to give a misleading impression as to the significance of the document.
    Gove is also disingenuously seeking to evade scrutiny by claiming that he is supplying “the most recent complete iteration” of a “regularly updated” document: this is plainly not what was demanded by Parliament. It is notable that Gove (in his response to Grieve) refers to providing the document to the EU Exit Select Committee, rather than specifically as a response to the humble address so that, if later challenged, he can conflate the two issues and claim that he assumed the address would be satisfied by supplying this *different* document; in any case, he states that a “review is currently underway” — translation: not only is this version not the document presented to Cabinet, but it will be discarded as soon as it has served its immediate purpose and won’t be even used again, having been prepared expressly for release to you to avoid scrutiny of what we are discussing.

    The last time the Government egregiously failed to respond to a humble address it became the first government in UK history to be held in contempt of Parliament — in fact, it appears that the advice demanded has still never been published in full — and yet our absentee constitution has allowed the Government to continue in place, in spite of disregarding the will of Parliament to its own party political ends.

    On this occasion, what can Parliament possibly do? It cannot do anything, let alone hold the Government in contempt (and recent history shows that it is open to question whether even that would have any practical effect), because that same government has *prorogued* Parliament *precisely* in order to avoid any such censure, scrutiny, or check on the absoluteness of its executive power.

    Time is desperately short at this particular historically urgent moment, and yet today Parliament is not even sitting, no committees are active, and the legislature has no means available to express its will short of an exhaustive legal challenge through the courts which not only lacks a predictable outcome, but which offers no certainly that the issue will even be ruled to be justiceable!
    The executive has simply dismissed Parliament from the field of play, and Parliament does not even have any direct means to object to its own exclusion! At present, its best hope apparently lies in demonstrating that the executive was dishonest about its private motives, and in keeping its fingers crossed that the Supreme Court will find this a sufficient reason to assume the power to upend royal prerogative.
    Can any country in which the authority of Parliament hangs by such a fragile thread really hope to call itself a democracy? Could any such claim be taken seriously when governance depends upon parliamentarians digging up such ancient and recondite mechanisms from bygone eras? Bemused observers across the democratic world are pointing and laughing in baffled amazement.

    A polity in which Parliament has no certain means to enforce its will on behalf of the people it represents has ceased to be a democracy and is little more than a fig-leaf for a dictatorship, a superficial ornament of arcane rite, obscure procedure and a crown with “plenty of holy oil about” (as a correspondent wrote to the Earl of Manchester in 1659) designed to obscure the unsightly and unimpressive reality it conceals from the eyes of the public.

    A final plea: while we’re all caught up in the day-to-day chaos and speculation as to what might or might not happen next (which in itself is evidence of dysfunction: a working polity necessarily must ensure predictable outcomes), it is *essential* to remember the objectives of this end-game, which will be realised as soon as Brexit (“no-deal” in all likelihood) is scrambled over the deadline by whatever means occur, legal or illegal, legitimate or otherwise:
    • executive rule by ministers using the “Henry VIII” powers which Parliament has already so unwisely gifted to whomever is on the throne when they manage to stop the music;
    • extension and expansion of these powers justified by the state of national emergency created by the actions of precisely those who will gain the powers as a result;
    • a climate of extremist populism caused by the above and fanned by the partisan press in which demagogues and the culture warriors of the xenophobic far-right can thrive: “It works the same way in any country,” as Göring observed in 1946. “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace-makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”
    • spectacular fortunes accrued by hedge funds and other speculators betting on a “No Deal” Brexit, e.g. by shorting Sterling. Many of these are those who provided the vast majority of the funding to promote Boris Johnson’s bid for leadership fo the Conservatives; most of the rest at least are to be found among the principal supporters of the Vote Leave campaign.

    These things do not depend in any way upon the legality or validity of the means used to reach them, merely upon the passing of the final deadline. There is no straightforward way to put any of this back in the box once it has been opened.

  21. It annoys me slightly that people accuse Johnson of being tyrannical or trying to stage a coup, because recent events have demonstrated that, far from having tyrannical power, he has almost no power at all. Any typical British prime minister with a large majority has been much closer to the position of a dictator. E.g. having to beg the opposition for an election is not exactly the typical behavior of a dictator (isn’t Johnson the first prime minister in history who hasn’t had the power at least to call an election?).

    His ability to “force through no deal” is based on the fact that no deal would happen by default if nothing happens and he might have the ability to stall until the 31st of October. Not very impressive. And what would he have then, if he succeeded (assuming that is what he wants)? An economic disaster and a minority government, plus impeding elections?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.