Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Constitution Suspended

Suspending parliament from sitting in order to force through business which it might otherwise prevent is a highly dangerous course. It appears that the government may be about to do so, asking the Queen to prorogue the sitting until later in the year. In this way Brexit can be forced through despite the House of Commons having voted that a deal with the EU must precede such a step.

This may or may not be constitutional - it forces the Queen to make a political decision and by long standing convention the monarch does not do so - but there is a very serious precedent. From 1629 to 1640 Charles I ruled without summoning a parliament. His futile war of religion against Scotland created a crisis that was resolved only by his recalling, and then ceding significant powers to, a parliament that viewed him with the deepest suspicion. His attempt to seize five MPs and a Lord by armed force in early 1642 convinced many that only force could restrain him. Within months the nation was so divided that a civil war - which everyone at the time deplored and feared - broke out and at its conclusion, nearly twenty years later, Charles had been executed, his son had shifted England away from the path toward absolute monarchy and a recognisable form of constitutional government emerged.

I don't think Boris Johnson knows much about modern British history - I believe he is more into the classics - and this ignorance may prove fatal. Fatal to his political ambitions, I hasten to add, before GCHQ decodes this as some sort of threat and sends round the heavy squad to kick in my front door at 3am tomorrow. The government rules by consent of parliament - that is the core message from the bloodshed of the 17th century. It summons and dismisses parliament at its peril.

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