Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Bojo to run Tory Circus*

[*into the ground]

So there you have it; despite his manifest unsuitability for this or any other position of responsibility, Bojo the Clown has, as expected, been made Chief Clown by the collective membership of the Tory Party, comprising less than half of 1% of the total electoral franchise, with the remaining 99.5%+ of the electorate having no say in the matter. “Roll up, roll up to see Bojo, the Blithering Blatherer! Laugh as he waves his Red Herring around! Special matinĂ©e performances every Wednesday lunchtime from September.” The problem is that the audience may no longer be amused, in the circumstances now facing the country.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, the Tory Party leadership contest has been an unedifying spectacle of the Unspeakable in pursuit of the Unattainable, because irrespective of the identity of the Prime Minister, Brexit remains undeliverable. It is like the quest for the Holy Grail; the Brexiteers can see the vision tantalisingly before them, but it is destined always to remain beyond their grasp.

There is no realistic prospect of our shiny new PM being able to re-negotiate the draft withdrawal agreement which Theresa May reached with the EU last year (except perhaps for a few purely cosmetic tweaks to the non-binding and largely meaningless political declaration annexed to the agreement). Bojo will find that his intended technique of bluff and bluster, in order to secure the removal of the Irish back-stop, among other substantive elements in the withdrawal agreement, will cut no ice in Brussels or in any other European capital. The EU has repeatedly made this clear, and individual member states have been equally adamant that they will not be persuaded to depart from the agreed collective position of the EU. It seems, however, that the EU might be prepared to agree a further extension of Article 50, if this is what it takes to avoid a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit on 31 October.

It has become depressingly apparent that a significant number of Tory MPs, and a majority of Tory Party members in the country (not to mention supporters of the Faragiste ‘Brexit Party’) are fervent followers of the Peter Pan view of politics, whereby you only have to wish for something really, really hard and it will magically happen. They are destined to have a very hard collision with reality within a very short time, with a distinct possibility of Bojo’s government being thrown out of office by the House of Commons, or being forced in any event to accept the inevitability of a fresh referendum or a General Election.

As Theresa May was fond of saying, “Nothing has changed.” There is still no parliamentary majority for the only Brexit deal that is available, nor is parliament prepared to countenance a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit. However, it is very unlikely that, without the co-operation or acquiescence of the Executive, parliament could prevent this happening simply by default, short of bringing the government down in a No Confidence vote in the Commons to force a General Election. This is a nettle that moderate Tories will have to grasp sooner rather than later (i.e. during September, rather than October, by which time it would probably be too late). It would be inadvisable to place any great reliance on other parliamentary tactics, such as last week’s amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, designed to limit the new government’s room for manoeuvre. These may not ultimately be effective in preventing a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit. A motion of No Confidence, moved by the Leader of the Opposition in September, and supported by a majority of members in the Commons, would seem to be the only really reliable option that is now left, and those Tory MPs who want to stop a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit will have to decide whether the time has finally come when they must sacrifice their political careers in the national interest.

A General Election could only be held before 31 October if the Commons were to pass a motion of No Confidence in the new government almost immediately after they come back from their summer recess on 3 September. Even then the timetable would be extremely tight, and it might well slip if the government tries to delay the start of the process. So a further postponement of Article 50 would be essential, before parliament is dissolved, in the event of a General Election being held. The timetable for a referendum would require an even longer extension, taking us well into 2020.

I have no illusions about the result of a General Election. The most likely outcome is another hung parliament in which both Labour and the Tories have lost seats to other parties, with no party being in a position to form a government (even with the support of another party), unless it is ether a very unstable minority government, or the fabled ‘Government of National Unity’ formed solely to give the final coup de grace to Brexit.

There is, of course, the possibility that (either by accident or by design) we may reach 31 October without anything being resolved, whereupon the default position kicks in and the UK simply crashes out of the EU without any transitional arrangements, and without any form of understanding as to our future trading relationship with the EU (so that no reliance at all could then be placed on Article XXIV of GATT, contrary to the assertions of some of the Brexiteers). I don’t need to repeat here the dire consequences for the whole country that would immediately follow in that event. The government and the country is even less prepared for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit now than it was before the previous Brexit deadline in March.

The possibility has been canvassed (not only by Bojo, but also by other head-bangers in the Tory Party) that parliament might be prorogued, with the deliberate intention of bringing this about. The latest wheeze is to pretend that this would be just a routine procedure for bringing the current parliamentary session to a close, before a new session starts with a Queen’s Speech at the beginning of November. However, prorogation at any time before 31 October would be a transparent ploy to force a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit on the country, whether parliament likes it or not.

As I have pointed out previously, the Royal Prerogative (which includes the power to prorogue parliament) must be exercised in a properly constitutional manner. It would be grossly improper for the government (any government) to ask the monarch to prorogue parliament with the express intention of silencing parliament or thwarting its wishes. If our new PM seriously proposes to use this device, I would hope that the Cabinet Secretary would make it abundantly clear to him and to his advisers that prorogation for this purpose (no matter how it may be dressed up) would be a wholly unacceptable exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and would drag the Queen into the political arena in a completely unconstitutional way. The Palace would no doubt make it clear to the Cabinet Secretary in any event that the Queen would strongly deprecate being involved in political controversy, and that the suggested prorogation of parliament for such an improper purpose would be constitutionally unacceptable.

It is a convention of the constitution that the monarch acts on the advice her government, but if she is being advised or requested to act in a manner that would be unconstitutional, the constitutional convention would not in my view require the Queen to accede to her government’s request in those circumstances. It would be entirely proper, in my submission, for the Queen to refuse in such circumstances to prorogue parliament. (In practice, strenuous efforts would no doubt be made behind the scenes to avoid the monarch being put in the invidious position of having to be seen publicly to refuse to carry out her government’s wishes, and it is to be hoped that the PM would be persuaded to back down before that point is reached, in order to avoid a major constitutional crisis.)

No doubt Bojo will be busy in the next few days putting the finishing touches to his Cabinet of Clowns (although wiser Tory MPs – there are a few - might be well advised to sit this one out, rather than having to share the blame when Bojo’s government hits the buffers, as it undoubtedly will). What happens next is anyone’s guess. MPs are due to go off on their hols later this week, almost immediately after Bojo takes office, and so the first parliamentary showdown won’t take place until after the Commons returns from the summer recess in September, when there will be a brief session before everyone goes off again for the party conference season until mid-October (although there is a suggestion that the Commons may have to stick at it through the conference season this year). This will leave precious little time to prevent a car crash Brexit on 31 October, which is why there would appear to be no alternative to a No Confidence motion being passed in the Commons early in September, especially if it has become clear that Bojo, having returned empty-handed from Brussels, is by then heading for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit. A No Confidence vote would trigger the procedure under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, leading to a change of government or, more probably, a General Election. At the very least, this would then require a further extension of Article 50.

So Scene II of the Final Act of ‘Brexit – The Play That Goes Wrong’ may prove to be as action-packed with political mayhem as the final scenes of Hamlet and The Duchess of Malfi combined. There is, however, a very un-Shakespearean way in which this tragi-comedy of errors could be resolved without metaphorical blood all over the carpet, and that would be for Bojo’s government to accept that the only way to avoid a looming political disaster would be to revoke the UK’s Article 50 notice to the EU, thus bringing the current Brexit crisis swiftly to an end. I am sure that Bojo is a sufficiently practised illusionist to pretend that this is his cunning plan to out-fox the EU while he plots a much more effective way of delivering Brexit at some future date. That way, the Tories, the Labour Party and the country as a whole will all live to fight another day.



  1. Can a vote of no confidence be far behind...

  2. The Tories have turned parliament into a celebrity TV game show which our media just love to 'milk'especially when the prize is a big cheese like Bojo.
    Much like our planning system a game of chance,some knowledge but more 'who you know' and ultimately with winners and losers but no decent proper ground rules or level playing field.