The UK ’s political system is on the brink of imploding. So when the Commons returns in early September, MPs, led by Labour, must be prepared to take drastic action to defy Boris Johnson’s plan to sideline Parliament.
A potentially catastrophic social and economic experiment, better known as a no-deal Brexit, is on the cards as Johnson, prompted by free-market, libertarian ideologues like Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza, rejects further talks with Brussels.
Johnson has no mandate for such a kamikaze policy, which actually betrays in the most cynical way the aspirations of those who voted to leave in the 2016 referendum.
That vote was a rejection of the status quo which took the shape of falling living standards, job insecurity, poor or absent public services as well as membership of the European Union, which had done nothing to mitigate the impact of neoliberal policies. In fact, the capitalist EU had for over 20 years contributed to the free-market bandwagon, which is why I voted to leave.
Many leavers assumed that a discredited political class would get the message, deliver Brexit and respond to their grievances. That proved a mistaken assumption, a step too far for a state system wedded to neoliberal capitalism. So May’s half-baked deal failed three times and Johnson is the result.
It would be a mistake to see Johnson’s “do or die” Brexit policy as an attempt to honour the referendum result. He could have done that by getting the lunatic fringe in the European Research Group to vote for May’s deal. No, he has another agenda.
Johnson’s cabinet of free-trade fanatics believe that prosperity lies in the ditching of all safety nets in terms of consumer, labour and food regulation and a free-for-all in global markets. Going down this road will actually intensify the exploitation of millions of UK citizens as their living standards are cut to maximise competitiveness in world markets and attract inward investment. Not for nothing is Trump heaping praise on fellow populist, Islamaphobe and misogynist Johnson.
No one can predict the consequences of quitting without any transitional arrangements in place. The sharp fall in the value of sterling since Johnson’s political coup ended Theresa May’s premiership is one indicator of what’s to come.
The Bank of England is warning of a one-in-three chance of a recession. Given the turmoil in the global economy, with a full-scale trade war between China and the US looming, that’s erring on the side of caution. Medicine and food shortages, transport chaos and plant shutdowns for lack of raw materials – everything is possible after a Halloween Night no-deal Brexit.
Carrying this policy through would seem a problem for a government with a Parliamentary majority of just one (including the votes of the despicable DUP of Northern Ireland). Johnson has a cunning plan. (Or should that be a Cummings plan?)
He is set to simply ignore any vote of no confidence in his government which will probably take place in early September and, instead, call a general election to be held after October 31, by which time the UK would have left the EU without a deal.
Alternatively, Johnson could prorogue or suspend the current session of Parliament so it’s not sitting on Halloween. Both actions would require the consent of the Queen in line with constitutional convention.
MPs have no power to stop any of this by passing resolutions or motions, as these have no legal effect. All power to control legislation rests with the government – not Parliament. It’s an arrangement that former Tory Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham once called an “elective dictatorship”.
So if Parliament doesn’t want to be reduced to a footnote in history, mere spectators as the Johnson clique turns into something extraordinarily nasty, brutal and intolerant. MPs will have to step up to the plate. It will require Labour especially to think and act beyond a constitution that is clearly broken.
If Johnson, as seems certain, defies Parliament then Labour should treat him as the House of Commons of January 1642 dealt with Charles I. That absolute monarch came to Westminster to arrest five MPs who had defied his self-proclaimed divine right of kings to rule as they saw fit. But the five had flown and other MPs refused to acknowledge Charles as he stood in the Commons chamber without an invitation as was customary.
Labour should encourage MPs to reject the legitimacy of the Johnson cabinet and withdraw from Westminster if an election is called as a ruse to avoid putting a no-deal Brexit to the vote or Parliament is suspended. Parties should be lobbied to boycott what would be a fraudulent election. If held it would enshrine and semi-legitimise an anti-democratic, autocratic regime.
An “alternative” Parliament would resume deliberations elsewhere and challenge the authority of a government without a mandate. Such a Parliament could, for example, agree to seek fresh talks with the EU towards a negotiated settlement that could be put to a referendum.
Furthermore, MPs should as a matter of urgency convene a citizens’ convention on the constitution so that the people themselves have the opportunity of remaking democracy in their favour. This legitimate Parliament would acknowledge that it would be bound by its proposals.
These would be drastic steps but in a situation where representative democracy is crumbling into the dust, they are a way forward. Labour may hesitate but they are no doubt aware that the state and big business, opposed to a no-deal Brexit, are conspiring to bring in a “government of national unity” in the autumn, which would exclude Jeremy Corbyn.
For Labour to regain the initiative, they have to think big and bold – now.