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How Britain Plunged Into Its Worst Constitutional Crisis in 400 Years

Boris Johnson’s efforts to ram through a no-deal Brexit have unleashed a massive fight over who holds political power in the U.K.

The news hit like a shockwave across British politics. On Wednesday morning, three of Scotland’s most senior judges found that the government had unlawfully suspended its own Parliament in a desperate attempt to force through an extreme version of Brexit.

It was, without hyperbole, the most shocking legal decision in the modern history of British public law. The logical conclusion of the ruling was that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had lied to the public, lied to Parliament, and, most shocking of all, lied to the queen.

It looks like a frenzied political battle over Brexit. But the beating heart of this story is not Brexit. It is the question of where power resides in British politics.

The U.K.’s constitutional system hands sovereignty — supreme authority — to Parliament. That power is derived from the people. The public votes for who they want to represent them, and those people sit in Parliament as MPs. The government, composed of the prime minister in Downing Street and his ministers, ultimately answers to them. The MPs can vote for or against the laws the government puts forward.

But the 2016 Brexit referendum changed everything. The vote to leave the European Union was a new development. It wasn’t representative democracy. It was direct democracy. This was a completely new source of democratic legitimacy emerging from the womb.

The trouble with the vote was that it offered only a broad demand — leave the EU — but no details about how to pursue it. Should Britain pursue a soft Brexit, which stayed aligned to the EU economy? Or a hard Brexit, which pushed away from it? Or even a no-deal Brexit, which accepted no arrangements with the EU whatsoever? The referendum offered no answers to these questions.

The government responded by adopting a tried-and-tested sleight of hand much loved by authoritarians throughout history. The government claimed that it, and it alone, could interpret the referendum result. It represented the “will of the people,” which was whatever the government said it was.

In fact, this was all opportunist nonsense. Leave voters were not unanimous in what they wanted, and neither, for that matter, were Remain voters. There was no will of the people. It was a fiction, a lie that pretended that a mad scramble of different voices was uniform and homogenous.

But if the government could claim there was such a thing, it could tap into a rich new well of political legitimacy and ignore Parliament. It would make itself more powerful than ever. So, for the past three years, the government has pursued a variety of Brexit strategies, all the while branding those in Parliament who tried to hold it to account as traitors who were trying to “undermine” the will of the people.

That process has now reached a crescendo. Britain is now in the most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War in the 1600s.

On August 29, Boris Johnson asked the queen to prorogue Parliament. This is a standard procedure in which the legislative agenda is reset and MPs disband for a couple of weeks. Johnson pretended it was a run-of-the-mill event.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was unprecedented for the government to attempt prorogation in the heart of a major political event. And Britain was currently embroiled in the most serious event of our lifetime. On October 31, the country would fall out the EU by automatic operation of the law. Johnson’s intention was to leave with no deal — the most extreme possible interpretation of the Brexit vote.

The length of the prorogation was also unheard of. It was far longer than normal. The conclusion was obvious: Johnson wanted full government control. With Parliament suspended, MPs would be powerless to stop him from doing whatever he wanted.

The queen accepted. There was nothing else she could do. The monarch has no real individual role in British politics — it is all ceremonial. She had to take the prime minister at his word.

And then all hell broke loose. In their last week before prorogation, the MPs launched a form of constitutional guerrilla warfare against the government. They took control of parliamentary business and started pushing through a piece of rebel legislation, completely independent from Downing Street, that would force the prime minister to extend Britain’s membership of the EU if there was still no Brexit deal by the end of October.

Twenty-one MPs in the governing Conservative Party joined the fight against their own government. They were not seasoned rebels. All but one of them had held ministerial posts. They were the entirety of the party’s statesman class. In an insane act of self-sabotage, Johnson told them that any act of rebellion would see them exiled from the party — a practice known as “removing the whip.”

The threat was clearly designed to scare them into submission. But it didn’t work. They rebelled anyway. Johnson promptly sacked them—by text message—and eradicated his own majority. He had made good on the warning but by doing so dismantled his own capacity to govern. The rebel MPs helped the opposition pass the legislation into law. Johnson’s no-deal strategy was in tatters.

As the minutes counted down to the disbanding of Parliament, a series of extraordinary scenes played out, the likes of which no one had seen before.

Johnson had one last gambit. He could demand a general election. But without a majority, even this pathway was lost to him. British law requires a prime minister to secure a two-thirds majority in the Commons for an election outside of the normal five-year timetable. But opposition parties weren’t going to play ball. They would only allow an election after they were certain the October deadline had passed and a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.

Johnson tried twice to pass a motion for an election but was defeated on both occasions. It was a humiliation. He sat dejected in the House of Commons. It was checkmate.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, as the minutes counted down to prorogation, a series of extraordinary scenes played out in Parliament, the likes of which no one had seen before. MPs attempted to physically hold the speaker of the Commons down in his chair so prorogation couldn’t take place.

“I recognize that our presence is desired by our Majesty the Queen’s commissioners,” the speaker said, grudgingly. “They are doing what they believe to be right, and I recognize my role in this matter.”

In response, opposition MPs shouted, “Shame on you,” at the government benches. Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson screamed at the speaker and stormed out the chamber. The speaker replied, “I don’t care if you don’t like it. I require no response from you, young man. Get out, man. You will not be missed.” Opposition MPs held a protest in the chamber, holding up signs reading “Silenced.”

But none of it worked. None of it could work. The queen had accepted Johnson’s request for prorogation. The suspension came into effect.

And then, Wednesday morning, the Scottish court case blew everything wide open again. Three first division judges ruled that the prorogation was an attempt to silence Parliament. “The court will accordingly make an order,” they said, “declaring that the prime minister’s advice to the queen and the prorogation which followed… was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect.”

The consequences were astonishing. The prime minister was judged to have unlawfully suspended Parliament. And it got worse even than that. The prorogation request had to go through the monarch, meaning Johnson had lied to the queen herself about the purpose of the suspension.

Opposition politicians immediately called for MPs to return. “Get back to Parliament,” Labour Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said. “Open those doors and get back in.”

But in truth, the ruling is just the advance battle before the war. Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will rule on a government appeal in the case and that of other cases concerning the prorogation, which had been decided in the government’s favor. That will be the deciding moment.

What is being decided here is not just about Brexit. It is about the biggest constitutional question you can ask in any country: Who holds legitimate political power? Is it the people, or Parliament, or the government?

For centuries, there was a settled answer. Parliament held the power by virtue of votes from the people. The Brexit referendum provided the government with a mechanism to sidestep that arrangement and portray itself as the voice of the people independently from Parliament. The events of the next few weeks will show which of those visions is victorious. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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Simply put, without the NHS: I'd never have been born (I'm an IVF baby). I'd have died in the womb (as did the triplets I was supposed to be part of). I'd have died at some point immedi

I didn't really want to get involved in this thread again, as emotions are very high, but I can't stand by and continue to be abused without putting my side across.  I'll try and quantify my view

And I’m going to have a Spanish beer from a Belgian glass, wearing an Italian band t-shirt ordered from a German website, and listening to some Bulgarian europop. You and the rest can stick Brexi

Posted Images

Developments:

- DUP reject any form of control in Irish Sea so effectively scupper any chance they will go along with whatever nebulous reformatting of the backstop Floppy Johnson eventually proposes. If Northern Irish politicos say no, so too does Dublin and they have a veto.

- Supreme Court will sit with a maximum compliment of 11 judges next Tuesday

- many MPs of different hues are confirming there is a real No Deal Brexit Worst Case scenario. It includes projected deaths and martial law and has been named Black Swan. Government doing all it can to prevent it from getting out.

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16 hours ago, Silas said:

 

I don't disagree with either of you. I am not against migrants. I just want to have the right type of migrants coming to our country, and to prevent the chancers and charlatans from taking advantage of our benefits and systems. 

Under the EU citizen's charter, the UK can throw out EU immigrants if they do not, after 3 months, have the means to support themselves. That the UK, contrary to every other EU member, doesn't do this, is something only the Home Office can answer.

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Glad you are conceding Remain are ahead on every poll.

Blackburn

2016remain 46.3%leave 53.7%
2018remain 54.1%leave 45.9%


422 out of 632 constituencies in Great Britain no longer back Brexit. After the biggest poll yet, Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate have produced a new map of British attitude towards Brexit and the tide has turned. 193 constituencies that voted to leave in 2016 have changed their minds and now want to stay.

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Just now, philipl said:

Glad you are conceding Remain are ahead on every poll.

Blackburn

2016remain 46.3%leave 53.7%
2018remain 54.1%leave 45.9%


422 out of 632 constituencies in Great Britain no longer back Brexit. After the biggest poll yet, Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate have produced a new map of British attitude towards Brexit and the tide has turned. 193 constituencies that voted to leave in 2016 have changed their minds and now want to stay.

Ive conceded no such thing Philipl. I don't live in Blackburn

Edited by chaddyrovers
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6 minutes ago, only2garners said:

Chaddy - you did post 5 different polls all showing a Remain majority.

I show Philipl comment of 14 points ahead was wrong. Thats was his comment. I also show how people voted in 2016 not just opinion but an actually vote by the voters..

I would say we live in a divided country.which is split over its views on brexit.

 

Edited by chaddyrovers
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Every poll shows remain ahead of leave and that goes up to 14% for remain v no deal.

Also the north is now more pro remain than the south which echoes my repeated assertion that Brexit is a project of the Tory English shires. Labour membership is now 85% remain.

Having said that polling is all over the place. There are two constants 

Remain ahead of whatever of the all-sorts bag of leave options you care to name with a range of 4% to 14%

Post Johnson selection, Tories ahead of Labour with a range of 1% to 14%

Since the events of last week when Johnson de facto lost Parliamentary power, the attitude of business and serious press has switched to examining the Labour policy statements in detail and they are not finding them anything like as scary as Corbyn and cronies are.

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Faisal Islam, BBC Economics Editor, is reporting that all the big banks are giving upbeat forecasts for a Corbyn Government.

Citi project an economy under a Labour coalition will be immediately 2% bigger than under Johnson majority pushing through No Deal Brexit.

Interestingly a Labour coalition win is now the central forecast.

Coalition composition will depend on numbers elected but it is odds on there will be 50 SNP MPs (including at least 10 gains from Tories). A Corbyn majority is about as improbable as a Johnson majority.

Johnson starts at -43 and that becomes -120 when factoring in expected losses to LD and SNP plus throwing DUP under the bus. 

Edited by philipl
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Well you have saved us all from voting now Philipl. 

Labour to win the next election? Dont see them winning at all. Corbyn isnt fit to be leader of this great country. We will much worst off if he ever gets to number 10. So if Labour are so confident of winning in his election then why are local Labour MP's in the East Lancashire fearing a backlash like be voting out in the election? 

Will the big banks be happy about Labour policy of 4 day working week? Really? 

The latest poll shows that 28% of people are undecided. So all clearly to play for? Not as dead cert as you would lead us to believe. 

Even Starmer thinks Labour would do much better without Corbyn as leader. Corbyn isnt fit to be PM of this country. Plenty of people have said the same as me on social media. Corbyn and his top team(apart from Starmer who seems very decent) are out of touch with real people and voters. Diane Abbott is clueless. Imagine her running the home office. Thats makes me very worried!!!

You are quite happy for 17.4 million voters to be ignored now @philipl cos it suited your opinions and what you want. If people are ignored then why will people bother voting again cos clearly our vote doesnt matter cos certain ppl would us to stay in. 

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Corbyn is not good, but come on where the fuck have you been since the referendum Chaddy? A cabinet led by Steve Kean with Harold Shipman as health minister and the surviving Chuckle brother as Home Secretary could have done a better job than the Tories. That shower of shit have done nothing but fought each other and used a right wing vanity project for personal gain, either financial or for power. They've thrown the country under the infamous red bus and you seem to be happy about it.

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Chaddy

The international banking system unanimously prefer Marxist Corbyn over No Deal Brexit because we would all be massively better off financially under Corbyn than under No Deal.

It is as simple as that no matter how much you try to kid yourself.

NO DEAL BREXIT IS FOR LOONIES WHO WANT TO TOSS THEIR FUTURE AWAY.

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Just now, Norbert Rassragr said:

Corbyn is not good, but come on where the fuck have you been since the referendum Chaddy? 

getting on with life and keeping my promises to my missus and family. 

Just now, philipl said:

Chaddy

The international banking system unanimously prefer Marxist Corbyn over No Deal Brexit because we would all be massively better off financially under Corbyn than under No Deal.

It is as simple as that no matter how much you try to kid yourself.

NO DEAL BREXIT IS FOR LOONIES WHO WANT TO TOSS THEIR FUTURE AWAY.

and what happens if Johnson gets a deal next week when meeting the EU President next week in Luxembourg 

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Depends on the deal Chaddy. Leave won by a narrow majority. Therefore the way to reunite the country from the beginning was via a "soft Brexit", same sort of deal as Norway for example. Leave but retain certain links with EU----particularly environmental and labour standards.

Instead Remainers were treated as losers with no stake and no say in the outcome.

Johnson would be one of the worst examples of this attitude and took no real interest in any deal at all till parliament blocked him in and he realised he had no choice.

So, I'm sceptical about his motives and his chances and he's shown his real character by refusing to state that he will follow the law in terms of seeking an extension beyond Oct 31st as the law demands but we will wait and see eh? Not long!

 

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2 hours ago, chaddyrovers said:

and what happens if Johnson gets a deal next week when meeting the EU President next week in Luxembourg 

1) Johnson has to put the UK proposals in writing which the lazy sod hasn't yet

2) He should assemble a negotiating team- currently he has 4 civil servants

3) Apparently David Frost ( the Olly Robbins replacement) has suggested in Brussels deleting two thirds of the backstop clauses without suggesting anything to replace them and told his opposite number he cannot discuss any rationale for his request or even do any what if scenarios. He is vastly more limited in scope than Robbins ever was so he is achieving √FA and can only achieve √FA unless Floppy Johnson stops lying about negotiations.

4) Barnier has said no negotiations are possible because he has no mandate to negotiate. The Withdrawal Agreement and Backstop which is EXACTLY what May wanted meeting all six of her red lines- too bad she forgot to check with the DUP- is the Agreement

5) That Agreement of course crashed and burned three times in the UK Parliament in both Houses. The closest it came was losing by 58. The other two times it was debated Johnson and the majority of the current Cabinet voted against it

6) Any "Agreement" now will be May's Agreement with a bit of wordy tarting up

7) Then the fun starts. An agreement already rejected three times would be put back to Parliament where the ERG have already said they will vote against and any adjustment for an all-Ireland agriculture deal swings 11 DUP votes from AYE to NO so Johnson has to find 80 votes from somewhere

8 ) Almost certainly the EU will wait to see if Johnson can get it through the UK Parliament. If he does it goes to EU Council and 31 Parliaments across the EU. Every one has a Veto including the Irish who have already said they will vote against it if the DUP votes against in the UK Houses of Parliament

9) As for Juncker-Johnson negotiations; dream on. Johnson was twice sacked as a journalist for lying about the EU and the EU has had experience of Johnson as the most inept and untrustworthy Foreign Minister in British history. They will probably get drunk together but that will be that. Johnson has less credibility than a pink elephant.

 

To make it simple, you would be better advised counting flying pigs than banking on an Agreement before 31 October.

Edited by philipl
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Juncker has been burnt by reaching agreement with May only to find she hadn't even talked to her partner in Government the DUP.

EU had enough with Davis turning up totally unprepared.

And of course unlike May, Johnson can credibly claim he has a majority in Parliament to support a deal... not.

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It's possible to find a poll which will support most opinions. The reality is we will crash out on October 31st. If we have a GE some weeks after I feel turnout will be very low. Brexit is the motivator.

https://t.co/prvtaj6lNu

LAB 28%

CON 26%

LIBDEM 20%

Once we are out I look forward to Leavers enjoying their sovereignty and new passports. It's about the only thing they'll be able to smile about.

Edited by Paul
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