-64: Shutting down parliament

⇠ Back to Blog:Brexit

Brexit will certainly happen on 31 October (2019) (64 days from now). If it does not, even bigger things will happen. While I decided that I would better remain publicly silent on the whole issue (being a guest in this country, and a scientist who should better mind other things, and somehow of a public figure in a UK University), since the event is getting to proportions that may well change the course of History, of Europe and of our own lives among other things, it would also be an intellectual flaw not to give it very much scrutiny. And when you look at something, inevitably, you express an opinion about it (even if you try to conceal or to suppress it, and I am for openness in all things anyway). I will still reserve personal opinions to a minimum as I record in this blog how the Brexit unravels, from the inside, in a Brexit pocket. At least for a while. My sentiments against the European Union matched with the fact that Brexit will clearly be detrimental to me as a European expat, shows that this is not a simple issue anyway.

But back to History in its making. Today the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced his intention to shut down parliament. As if in a game of chess, he first enacted the law to enforce Brexit and is now in the process of prohibiting parliament to undo this law, making the process automatic. In this grandmaster move, he plays the queen!

While this is normal for a new government to freeze the Parliament for the time awaiting for Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, in which case this is called "proroguing" (the term also used by Jonhson on this occasion), this is for short periods of time and has little or no incidence on the power of the parliament. Essentially, this is a formality to serve the decorum.

In this case, this is widely regarded as a strong political move, intended to impose a highly controversial decision against parliament (which is elected) by a tandem of unelected figures: the prime minister and the queen. The interesting bit is that the royalty could, in principle, refuse the prorogation on this occasion, meaning she would clearly take a stand in the battle (accepting would merely be doing what she's supposed to do). At the same time, the last time that Parliament was shut down under similar (i.e., political vs decorum) circumstances, the royalty involved (Charles I) lost his head after triggering a civil war. Polarizations are also very high in UK at the moment. Most people we know would not let us know what they feel (it's generally impossible to know what a Brit really thinks) but those who do are either violently against or furiously in favour.

So moving the queen is a bold move. It is not one that comes with complete surprise, though, starting with the claim that such a gambit couldn't be possibly played, in the own words of the Speaker of the house, who previously said that it was [1]

blindingly obvious that no-deal Brexit cannot happen without vote.

Even deeper into predictions, John Major [2] (former prime minister) even advised of possible recourses against such a scenario (namely, to go to court; UK has a highly developed legal system):

The Queen’s decision cannot be challenged in law. But the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen can, I believe, be challenged in law.

Finally, which was not the case in the time of Charles I, the bulk of the people would seemingly back up the government (and royalty) against the parliament on this one. But only by a short majority. So we live exciting times, where things can take a nasty turn pretty quickly. It looks likely that the parliament, in the little time it has left for its next move, will vote a confidence motion to topple the government, which will call for general elections, which will comfort the Brexit side, possibly with Nigel Farage entering the government, at which stage it becomes difficult to foresee what comes next. Simultaneously, political crises in Italy and France make it possible that the implosion of EU is at stake, which could easily escalate into world-war level of conflict, in the wake of the considerable economical disruptions that will take place. The only positive aspect of all this mess is that the situation we are heading to is one where the backstop, regarded as the big hurdle, will become the last of the problems.