Boris Johnson’s intention to prorogue Parliament has provoked much contrived outrage from opposition politicians and Commons Speaker John Bercow. But where have these self-proclaimed “defenders of democracy” been while Jeremy Corbyn and many progressive and labour movement figures have been demanding a genuine exercise in democracy through a general election?
This present parliamentary session has been one of the longest in modern British history and is not over yet, despite the current recess. The sitting government has been defeated time and again, in unprecedented fashion, and yet the Tories limp on. It is nothing out of the ordinary that a new prime minister at the head of a new government wants to suspend Parliament briefly in order to prepare a new legislative programme. Nor is there anything out of the ordinary about a parliamentary shutdown so that politicians can attend their autumn party conferences.
What is extraordinary is that Johnson should be prime minister at all and that the electorate should have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to bring this Tory government down. It is also clear that Johnson has an ulterior motive, namely to squeeze the parliamentary time available to anti-Brexit MPs to legislate against a “no-deal” departure from the European Union, seek a fourth postponement of Brexit day and perhaps even revoke Article 50 and keep Britain in despite the referendum result of June 2016.
These factors make Wednesday’s announcement of a prorogation abnormal. It comes in circumstances that have been created by anti-Brexit MPs and the House of Commons. They have had three years to agree a way to honour the people’s vote to leave the EU. Moreover, the vast majority of those MPs were elected on pledges to do just that. Instead, they have tried every parliamentary trick in the book—in this case Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice—to block and delay any and every kind of exit from the EU. Their wealthy supporters outside Parliament have tried using the courts and launching public campaigns to the same end. Now Johnson has decided to take them on with a trick or two of his own.
Had more MPs been honest about their full intention, their own protestations about prorogation being a “constitutional outrage” might at least have the ring of sincerity. As it is, they are the squawkings of a bunch of unscrupulous plotters who are now being played at their own disreputable game. Speaker Bercow has already made plain that he is a pillar of the pro-EU Establishment, which is at least a move to the left since his days of demanding “hang Nelson Mandela!” and praising the murderous dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile.
At the same time, nothing that Johnson says can be taken at face value either. He proclaims his urgent passion to invest in the NHS, schools, infrastructure and community policing, yet his record is that of so many pro and anti-Brexit MPs: tax cuts and privatisation for the rich, cuts in public services and welfare benefits for the rest of us. The danger remains that he and future prime ministers could see in prorogation a useful and usable device for suspending Parliament in order to impose reactionary policies without permission or accountability.
Caught as the Britons are between those that would thwart the peoples’ will, expressed in the 2016 referendum, and a Tory government intent on pursing its reactionary agenda by any means, the only logical call is for a general election now. The people need the election of a government committed to a radical socialist agenda and a recognition that the chances of carrying through that agenda require our release from the straitjacket of the anti-democratic EU, anti-worker European Court of Justice rulings and the neoliberal single market and customs union.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.