By Matthew Bridge
Britain has been stuck in a bitter argument with not just the European Union, but also itself for the last three years. Former Prime Minister Teresa May tried her best to negotiate a deal with the EU that pleased everyone involved, but ultimately failed and was ousted. A new leader for the country was voted in by conservative party members, with a controversial figure now coming to the forefront of British politics.
Since then chaotic scenes have erupted in the British parliament at Westminster. As the newly appointed leader of the Conservative party and Prime minister of the UK, Boris Johnson attempted to call a snap general election in October twice. By calling a general election Mr. Johnson hopes to solidify his position by increasing his majority and by removing MPs from his own party who have not supported him thus far. His attempts so far have been halted mere days apart as the opposition have refused to support Mr. Johnson’s plans until the possibility of a no deal Brexit has been removed from the negotiating table. A no deal would see the United Kingdom crash out of the EU and revert to World Trade Organization trade tariffs.
Following his defeats, two of his six consecutive defeats, the Prime Minster used the power of prorogation to close the parliament for five weeks. Prorogation is a constitutional law that is used to mark the end of a parliamentary era, causing Parliament to be suspended. The time length of the suspension can vary, with the length determined by royal declaration based on government advise. The queen’s speech marks the reopening of parliament and is used to set out a new legislative direction based on the new leaderships manifesto.
Members of parliament (MPs) shouted and chanted in protest of the Prime Ministers actions, with some calling it an abuse of power. This suspension means that members of parliament won’t be able to vote on the subject of a snap election or a no deal Brexit.
While it was not unusual for new governments to suspend parliament in this manner, the timing and length of this five-week delay have created a storm of controversy as Britain gears up for its October 31st deadline exit from the EU.
The government immediately faced legal action from activists over the suspension of parliament, with opponents calling it an attempt to silence the democracy of the UK. Challenges were launched at the English, Scottish and Northern Irish high courts, with an array of verdicts reached. As no consensus could be reached the case was sent to the Supreme court of the UK, the highest judicial authority.
A surprise verdict was returned from the Supreme court that the Prime Minister had misled the Queen on the use of the prorogation and that parliament should be recalled immediately. The finding that the government had unlawfully shut parliament has led to calls for Mr. Johnson’s resignation and led to angry scenes when MPs sat in the first session back in the House of Commons.
With the actions being seen as a ploy to get a no deal Brexit pushed through without interference, Mr. Johnson is under intense pressure on all sides. His supporters demand he meets the deadline of exiting the EU as promised in the leadership contest, whilst his opponents call for him to take no deal of the table and step aside. Mr. Johnson centered his leadership campaign on delivering Brexit by the 31st of October and getting it done with or without a deal. Any hint of a softening in his stance through the idea of another extension would undermine his entire premiership during its infancy.
Mr. Johnson has always been a controversial figure in British politics. Starting out as a journalist, before entering politics and becoming a much publicized and memorable mayor of London. He has become well known for many blunders throughout his time in the public eye, especially during his brief, embarrassing stint as foreign secretary. With controversy such as offensive Islamophobic comments during the summer of 2018 and the recent reports of police calls to a domestic disturbance, his personal life has become a large focus for political attacks by his opponents.
It is not just his political opponents that have begun attacking Mr. Johnson. He has started to be hounded by members of the public during his personal appearances, including a confrontation by a father during a visit to a children’s hospital. The father accused Mr. Johnson of not actually caring about the children, but rather more concerned with the publicity value of the event. A claim which Mr. Johnson denied.
Mr. Johnson and the British government find themselves in the middle of a political storm. One uncalculated step could cause their plans to fail before they have even got off the ground. Fail to deliver Brexit and they will face outcries from the supporters who put them in office. However, to deliver their promises they must not only face down their parliamentary opponents but ensure they do not alienate the public they claim to serve.