Not since Oliver Cromwell’s dismissal of the Rump Parliament – with the words “In the name of God, go!” – has Britain been plunged into such a deep national and constitutional crisis.
Lacking a written constitution, the British establishment relies on a web of convention and precedent. Now Boris Johnson has pushed this informal system to its limits, using ‘convention’ to request that the Queen suspend Parliament for over a month, in an effort to prevent opposition MPs from blocking a no-deal Brexit.
This ‘prorogation’ has set alarm bells ringing across Westminster.
Boris Johnson’s letter to MPs conforming prorogation of Parliament pic.twitter.com/OvtZ7cIwOA— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) August 28, 2019
Boris vs Parliament
Johnson’s move has sent the ruling class into a frenzied panic. “This move represents a constitutional outrage,” asserted John Bercow, the Speaker of the House.
The leading figures of the establishment had hoped that it would be their side that could use the Monarchy, calling in the Queen to stop Brexit. But Boris has beaten them to it, dragging Buckingham Palace into this all-consuming crisis of the regime.
In effect, Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet and thwarted MPs’ plans to block Brexit.
Those opposed to the Prime Minister’s plans are now left scrambling around. Boris’ proroguing of Parliament has placed them in great difficulties, severely narrowing the options available.
They want to stop Brexit by legislation, or even form some kind of National Government. But now they are twisting and turning, and time is quickly running out.
Jeremy Corbyn had attempted to provide a way out by offering to lead a ‘caretaker’ government, designed to extend the Brexit deadline, call a general election, and provide a second EU referendum.
But this proposal was met with strong opposition from Lib Dem leaders, ‘Independents’, and Tory ‘rebels’, who cannot stomach the idea of seeing Corbyn in Number 10, even if only for a few weeks. These Remainer MPs say they would do anything to stop Brexit – but they won’t go that far. They do not want to give Corbyn any kind of legitimacy.
Instead, those seeking to block a no-deal hoped to pursue a ‘legislative route’, using an emergency parliamentary session to force through an extension of Article 50. But this is extremely difficult and requires time – which they don’t have.
Today’s government announcement has thrown an enormous spanner in the works, designed to scupper the legislation necessary for such plans.
In effect, then, the only remaining road (no pun intended) for the Brexit blockers is to pursue what had previously been deemed a ‘last resort’: to accept Corbyn’s offer and help bring down Boris’ government through a vote of no confidence.
“I think we’ll move very quickly to a vote of no confidence in the government,” affirmed Dominic Grieve, a leading Tory Remainer.
“I think it is more likely because if it is impossible to prevent prorogation, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for people like myself to keep confidence in the government and I can well see why the leader of the opposition would wish to table a motion of no confidence.”
In short, the nuclear option is about to be detonated.
But even such a step might not be enough. Senior Downing Street officials are reported to have stated that, in the case of a successful vote of no confidence, the current government will dissolve Parliament and call an election to take place after the Halloween Brexit deadline. Then all hell will really break loose.
? No.10 threatening an election ?— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) August 28, 2019
"If MPs pass a no confidence vote next week then we won’t resign. We won’t recommend another government, we’ll dissolve parliament, call an election between November 1-5 and there’ll be zero chance of Grieve legislation,” says senior official.
Amongst those condemning Boris’ prorogation announcement are no shortage of right-wing Remainers.
“This action is an utterly scandalous affront to our democracy,” tweeted deputy Labour leader Tom Watson. Elsewhere, Anna Soubry, leader of Change UK, declared that, “Our democracy is under threat from a ruthless PM”.
Outrageous that #Parliament will be shut down at a moment of crisis as we face crashing out of the #EU with no deal & for which there is no mandate. Our democracy is under threat from a ruthless PM elected by less than 100K Con members. Email your MP now & demand Parliament sits— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) August 28, 2019
Such statements, however, ring hollow from the lips of these establishment politicians. They fawn over the trappings of parliamentary democracy, behind which lies the control of the bankers and big business, who take all the real decisions.
The hypocrite and arch-Blairite Tom Watson worships ‘democracy’, but cares little for democracy in his role of Machiavelli when trying to oust Corbyn – twice democratically elected as Labour leader. Watson is nothing more than a mouthpiece for big business inside the Labour Party, and no friend of party democracy.
Similarly for Anna Soubry, and the rest of the so-called ‘Independents’. They shout about democracy, but are not prepared to call by-elections in their constituencies, after resigning from the parties whose tickets they were elected on. Another ‘defender of democracy’, Chuka Umunna has been allowed to switch from the Labour Party to Change UK then to the Liberal Democrats more easily than a man changes a shirt.
When such ladies and gentlemen talk about defending ‘democracy’, what they really mean is defending the interests of big business and the ruling class.
As Marx explained, bourgeois democracy is where you get to choose which representative of the ruling class is going to misrepresent you every five years. Parliament is simply a talking shop. The real power rests with the bosses and bankers in the boardrooms of the City of London.
But such is the crisis raging in Britain that the ruling class has lost control over the situation. In fact, they have lost control of the Tory Party, as well as the once ‘moderate’ Labour Party. These once ‘reliable’ parties have been taken over by ‘radicals’ and ‘extremists’. Referenda and elections do not produce the ‘desired results’. And the establishment’s system of checks and balances has broken down under the pressure of an unprecedented political crisis.
Boris out! Corbyn in!
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have also decried Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit bombshell. The Labour leader has denounced the Prime Minister for his “smash and grab on our democracy”, whilst the shadow chancellor described the parliamentary suspension as “a very British coup”.
Along with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and Change UK leader Anna Soubry, Corbyn has also written to the Queen, expressing his concern and asking for a meeting in the hope of overturning the prorogation plan.
Corbyn and McDonnell are correct to oppose Boris Johnson in the most forceful terms. But the fight against him and his reactionary, reckless Tory government must be done from an independent class position, not by forging alliances with big business politicians, nor by appealing to the establishment, such as the Queen and the courts.
Instead of pursuing parliamentary manoeuvres or offering up a second referendum, the Labour leaders should be offering up socialist policies, and bringing the full force of the Corbyn movement out onto the streets in order to boot out Boris.
NEW - understand Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Queen, expressing concern about Boris Johnson's announcement that he's proroguing parliament, and requesting a meeting with her.— Heather Stewart (@GuardianHeather) August 28, 2019
Mass demonstrations have already been called, with the correct call for a ‘general election now’. Only by uniting and organising workers around class demands – to kick out the Tories and bring a socialist Labour government to power – can Boris be stopped in his tracks.
We are truly entering uncharted waters. Britain is facing an unprecedented situation – a constitutional crisis; a political crisis; and a social and economic crisis. It is a perfect storm.
The ruling class is quickly running out of options. They have completely lost control of the situation. Despite all of their best efforts, they are hurtling towards the cliff-edge that they have so desperately sought to avoid. Whether they can pull a rabbit out of the hat remains to be seen.
The only way forward is for Corbyn’s Labour to mobilise workers and youth, bring down Boris’ government, and fight for a clear socialist alternative to this capitalist chaos.