Statements from Boris Johnson and some of his leading supporters make it absolutely clear, beyond doubt, that this is an attempted coup against parliament. They have followed up their plan to suspend parliament with the declaration that they may ignore any laws passed by it in the few days allowed under their plan. Acting against a law is breaking it, and it must be absolutely clear that any government which both seeks to prevent parliament from sitting and will break the laws it may pass is actually engaged in coup.
However, this coup is not a fait accompli. It can be stopped. The key question is whether parliament is clear-sighted and determined enough to prevent it.
The measures the Johnson cabal are trying to impose are reckless ones, reflecting the fact that they do not command either a majority among MPs or among the people. There is a growing awareness that this is a project of a minority in this country – and one in the ultimate interests of Trump.
In the Sunday Times, Johnson refused to answer the question about whether he would comply with any law passed to delay Brexit, which is the plan of the opponents of crashing out with No Deal. But his Brexit secretary Gove made this threat even more explicit, and his Education secretary Williamson said the government ‘would look at’ any legislation passed in light of the impact on its negotiations with the EU. The clear implication is that they will ignore it if they choose.
In fact, there are no serious talks taking place with the EU, and no new proposals have been made. Johnson cancelled a meeting with Tory ‘rebels’ where he was due to update them on those talks.
It is vital that all the forces opposed to the coup understand its character. By definition, coups take place by usurping the lawful authority. In this case it is the authority of parliament that is being hijacked. In the British system the only authority that can pass meaningful legislation is parliament. Once it does so, the constitution has been that this becomes the law. Any government which threatens to break the law is placing itself in a position of being above it, which is an anti-democratic coup.
But this point is two-sided. The lawful authority remains with parliament, not the government. It can pass laws to prevent its authority being hijacked. A first order of business must be for parliament to do that and pass a law preventing its own suspension. Once it has then taken that first, decisive step it will then have the best part of two months to address all the issues related to blocking No Deal, a general election and a referendum. This needs to be passed alongside legislation stopping No Deal. If Johnson tries to thwart the MPs, they can vote to remove him in a vote of no confidence. But this cannot be done if Parliament has been prorogued.
There must be the maximum mass protests as this is decisive in determining the political situation, but these must demand Parliament passes a low preventing its own prorogation. Nothing else can legally prevent the coup.
There is no reason to dance to the tune of the coup plotters. They have no legal authority to do what they are attempting. The legal authority to block them lies with parliament.