Parts of the media, and even parts of the labour movement, are writing as though the ‘proroguing of parliament’, and therefore the shortening of time to block a No Deal Brexit, has already been achieved. This is totally false. The reality is that under the British constitution Parliament will only be prorogued if it allows itself to be. As in fighting a coup, which is what Johnson’s move is, depends on a completely accurate assessment of the relation of forces it is necessary to understand clearly why. What is involved is not ‘pure legality’ but real relations of forces.
As Chris Daw QC reminds us: ‘The first thing they teach in law school – The Queen-in-Parliament is sovereign. Not the Government, not the Prime Minister.’
Parliament is superior to the Prime Minister and government. That is why the government, if it loses a vote of No Confidence in the House of Commons, is forced to resign – it is not Parliament that is overruled by the government. All claims by Johnson’s supporters that if he loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons he will not resign are pure bullshit. He would be forced to.
Johnson, because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act does not even have the option to dissolve Parliament. That requires a two thirds majority in the House of Commons. And while Labour supports a general election in the coming period it does not at all have to support a general election timed for the precise moment to aid Johnson’s coup.
As for the Queen, if what was threatened was the end of capitalism she might well act illegally and outside Parliament. But Brexit, either way, will not end capitalism and in these circumstances she will act in a way to strategically preserve the monarchy. And that means not going outside the law set by Parliament because to do so would for the first time endanger the monarchy.
Practically, that means that if Parliament has not passed legislation to stop itself being prorogued she will act on the Prime Minister’s advice as she has done so far. But if Parliament passes legislation she will act in accord with that law.
This means that if Parliament passes an Act stating that it cannot be prorogued in this period that will be the law and it will be carried out – the Queen will not block it by refusing to sign legislation. The British monarchy has acted completely undemocratically, as recently as 1975 removing the elected, left-of-centre government of Gough Whitlam in Australia through the Queen’s representative, acting as head of state. But there was no law preventing them from doing so and therefore it did not endanger the monarchy. Under the present circumstances they will not act contrary to the law out of their own interests. Therefore, the most vital issue is that Parliament immediately passes a law that it cannot at present be prorogued. If it does that Johnson’s proposal will collapse. If it does not do that then Johnson’s coup will pass.
The fate of Parliament therefore lies in the hands of the House of Commons – as this House of Lords will not support Johnson on this. If the House of Commons immediately passes legislation, as soon as it sits, that Parliament cannot be prorogued at present Johnson’s will be defeated. If the House of Commons does not pass such a law Johnson will be successful.
Jeremy Corbyn was therefore completely correct to say on Radio 4 lunchtime news on 28 August that the first step Labour would take in Parliament would be to introduce legislation to prevent Parliament being prorogued. This, and votes for such a position by MPs from all parties opposed to Johnson’s coup, is the key to the entire situation.
If Parliament is prorogued it will only be due to the wrong judgement or cowardice of MPs. The fate of Parliament lies entirely in its own hands not those of Johnson.