So, what a week. The government has lost in court, Johnson has been trying to push forward his domestic agenda, parliament has been prorogued in one of the most dramatic ways ever and the Tories have rejected Farage and his Brexit Party. Although we will certainly discuss this in the podcast next week, I thought it would be useful to explain some of these beforehand (and it means my document won’t go to waste if it’s all out of date by then – which it might well be).
The Government Loses in Court
As I’m sure you’ve seen, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue parliament in order to give him, and his administration, time to draft a domestic agenda. If you haven’t (lucky you) we have a video below explaining this:
Unfortunately for Mr. Johnson, although the British High Court had ruled that his decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was lawful, the Scottish Courts had a different opinion. They claimed that Johnson has used the prorogation to “stymie parliament”. Now, I know what you’re thinking. What the hell does “stymie” mean. Well, you’re not alone. Merriam-Webster (a dictionary) has had to post a definition of it to their site. They claim that it derives from a golfing term that means to “stand in the way of”. So, the courts have claimed that Mr. Johnson has prorogued parliament to stand in the way of MPs attempting to block a No-Deal Brexit.
Even if this is true, it hasn’t quite worked for the Prime Minister. The bill blocking a No-Deal Brexit has gone through and it appears to be pretty tough to work around.
There is one saving grace for Mr. Johnson though. Although the Scottish court has found that the advice to prorogue parliament was illegal, his government can (and will) appeal this. This means that it is heard by the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, who very much could overturn the Scottish High Court’s decision.
Because the case is going to the Supreme Court, No. 10 has stated that it doesn’t believe that MPs should be recalled to parliament. Despite this, some Labour MPs (such as Jonathan Reynolds; Luke Pollard and Kevin Brennan) have tweeted pictures of themselves sat in the House of Commons in protest at the prorogation. As this has not happened before, it is unclear what the legal ramifications will be for Mr. Johnson if it is found that his advice to the Queen was unlawful – however, it would be expected that MPs would likely be recalled (and the Labour MPs will have a few more friends sat with them on the green benches).
The Rotherham Speech
Not only had the Prime Minister had a tough time in the courts this week, but he’s not had a great week with the British public either. When in Leeds, the Prime Minister was asked why he was in Leeds and not negotiating in Europe; when in Doncaster, the Prime Minister was asked about the Tories’ austerity policies and told that it had “killed people” and during his speech in Rotherham, the Prime Minister was told to recall MPs to parliament.
Clearly, Mr. Johnson has had a tough week.
The main points from the Rotherham speech, though, was that he wanted to devolve more powers to northern cities. These included cities (and mayors) being able to “run their own trains”. Although this was a big policy announcement, it seems to have been eclipsed by the heckling about the prorogation of parliament.
Although this announcement was substantial – some of the questions from journalists that followed are also worth commenting on.
The Prime Minister was asked about a comment he made on an LBC show with Nick Ferrari in which he claimed money was being “spaffed up the wall” investigating historic child sex abuse claims. Mr. Johnson denied making the claims.
Additionally, the Prime Minister was asked about a bill which aimed to toughen the law on domestic abuse. This bill has largely been accredited to the Labour MP Jess Phillips and aims to create a formal definition of domestic abuse (which includes financial abuse) and would create the position of domestic violence commissioner. Because of the way that parliament works, any legislation that has not received royal assent (become law) by the end of a parliamentary session is scrapped – unless it has a passover clause included in it. This bill did not have the passover clause included in it, and thus risked (alongside 12 other bills) being scrapped during the prorogation period. Mr. Johnson was asked during this speech whether he would ensure that he would bring it back in the next parliament – to which he said it would and that he would include it in his Queen’s Speech.
So, although Johnson was aiming to bring the attention away from the controversial prorogation that has happened this week, he just simply cannot bring that attention away from it.
Farage’s Election Pact Denial
There has, however, been a political news story this week that hasn’t been about the prorogation (yay!). After all the talk of a general election, Mr. Farage has made an offer of an electoral pact to the Conservative government. This pact would mean that the Brexit Party would not field candidates in constituencies with hardline Brexiteers. In return, the Conservatives would not field candidates in around 90 constituencies that have never backed the Tories but had supported the Brexit Party in the 2019 European Parliament election.
This deal would be an attempt to form a coalition of pro-Brexit candidates to oppose the perceived coalition of pro-Remain opposition candidates.
Presumably, because the Brexit Party did remarkably well in the European Parliament election in 2019, they are expecting that they may do well in the (supposedly) upcoming Westminster elections. Obviously though the European Parliament elections are very different to Westminster elections. People generally vote as more of a protest in European Parliament elections (probably more so than ever in the 2019 election). Moreover, the voting system is totally different. Even if the Brexit Party did do particularly well in the upcoming General Election, it is unlikely that they would gain many (if any) seats. This is down to the first-past-the-post voting system we have. This quirk of the system disproportionately disaffects smaller parties, and is expected to affect the Brexit Party in a similar way to it affected UKIP in the 2015 General Election.
This week has, as all weeks in politics at the moment, been momentous and will undoubtedly shape the next few weeks leading up to the historic Brexit deadline. While a General Election looms, the government’s fate hangs in the balance while the Supreme Court makes it’s verdict and as the Prime Minister faces scrutiny from many men and women on the street, it is unclear what the next few weeks will hold.
As always, we will try and keep you up to date with all of this.
If this article is too long, or you prefer to listen to your news, most of the content here will be included in our podcast. This article is just my notes for the podcast written up.