21st November 2020
Yesterday Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, resigned.
His statement was succinct to the point of curtness:
“I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code.”
The first sentence is dressed-up, but it is nothing more than a statement of fact; only the second sentence has any import.
The real reason for the resignation is that the Prime Minister disregarded the view of Allan that the Home Secretary was in breach of the Ministerial Code.
This resignation, in turn, follows the resignation in September of Sir Jonathan Jones as the Treasury Solicitor, the government’s senior legal official.
The resignation of Jones was also because of a breach, in that case that the United Kingdom government was deliberately intending to break the law.
And that resignation, in turn, followed the curious incident in 2019 where no government official was willing to sign a witness statement, on pain of perjury, as to the government’s true reasons for the five week prorogation of parliament.
These incidents are accumulating.
Each example is, in its own way, significant – in that it signifies a particular breakdown of the machinery of government.
And taken together they indicate a trend – a government that is indifferent to constitutional norms and conventions and which sees self-restraints as mere inconveniences to dismiss.
Alongside these examples, of course, we have the government threatening both the independence of the judiciary and the efficacy of judicial review.
This is a government that wants to be free of an impartial civil service and independent judiciary and seeks to legislate as much as possible by decree.
This is what I called the ‘Executive Power Project’ (in gentle mockery of the ‘Judicial Power Project’ – a group who, quite seriously, contend that judicial power is the real problem of our age).
So the Allan resignation shows us nothing new, but is a further illustration of what can already be seen as a wider problem.
The government has collapsed into hyper-partisanship, and it is ready to negate every conventional principle and even to break the law, and wants to remove anything that can say ‘no’.
This, of course, is the politics of hubris.
Yet the hubris of this government never seems to meet its nemesis.
The government still appears popular and there is no reason to believe another general election would return a different result to that of just under a year ago.
The government is even getting its excuses in early for the effect of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, whether there is a deal or not.
The Allan resignation signifies what is wrong about this government and its attitude to constitutional propriety – but we already have a number of such signifiers.
And so the Allan resignation also signifies that the government believes it can keep on getting away with these constitutional trespasses – and the worrying thing is that the government is probably right.
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