This past week (and the three years that preceded it) have graphically shown how remote and divorced from the lives of ordinary people members of the House of Commons have become. The outrage from some quarters over the removal of the party whip from twenty-one Conservative Members of Parliament is yet another indication of how out-of-touch MPs now are. And not just on the Tory side either.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson’s declaration that she and her party want a second referendum on the departure of the UK from the EU, and that they would ignore the result if it was for anything other than remain, shows that the Lib-Dems are neither liberal nor democratic. Swinson is also among those who has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to expel those twenty-one Tories from the party. Yet what else could he do? What else would he do?
Cast one’s mind back to 2015 for a moment. However ill-advised it may have been, the calling of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU was supported by a big majority in the House.
The European Union Referendum Act 2015 was the Act of the Parliament that made legal provision for a pre-legislative referendum to be held in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, on whether it should remain a member state of the European Union or leave it. The bill was introduced to the House of Commons by Philip Hammond, then Foreign Secretary, on 28 May 2015. Two weeks later, the second reading of the Act was supported by MPs from all parties except the SNP; the Act subsequently passed its third reading in the Commons on 7 September 2015 and was approved by the House of Lords on 14 December 2015. Royal Assent was granted on 17 December 2015 and it came into full legal force on 1 February 2016.
This act required a referendum to be held on the question of the UK's continued membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. The bill did not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this was a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.
However, David Cameron’s government then sent out a leaflet to all households across the country which stated: ‘This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide’.
That principle was then followed by all parties and innumerable MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Dominic Grieve and others, all of whom said very clearly (more than once) that the UK would leave the EU in accordance with the will of the majority of votes cast.
As to what type of referendum it was, there is little point on having one if the result is to be ignored. To do anything other than as the majority of people voted would be a betrayal of those people as well as democracy itself.
So why hasn’t the UK left?
It hasn’t because a core of MPs have indeed betrayed the country by not following the referendum result and they have further betrayed the country by seizing power from the government with their parliamentary machinations to secure that power for themselves. On top of that, they have betrayed the country even more by denying a general election to the people of the United Kingdom.
A reminder; MPs are not the government. The party that forms a government is that which gains the most MPs in the House of Commons after a general election. This, up to now at least, is the Conservatives. It is the party’s leader who becomes Prime Minister, in this case currently Boris Johnson. Johnson became party leader in accordance with the accepted rules and conventions and he is therefore entitled to become Prime Minister and to form a government. Who goes into that government is up to him; just as it was for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Just as it was for David Cameron and Theresa May, as it still was for all those who preceded them and just as it would still be for Jeremy Corbyn.
It is still not the place of MPs to usurp the government and take power away from it. This is what a number of MPs have done. By doing so, they have staged what amounts to a coup. And it is why they must be made to leave parliament.
This is even more marked when one considers that among their other misdeeds, MPs have very quickly passed a law that compels the Prime Minister to, metaphorically speaking, bow down before an un-elected foreign ruler and ask for the vote of the majority of people in the UK to be overturned once more by asking the EU to extend the date upon which the UK leaves the EU. Further, this law also gives the EU the power to decide whether or not the UK leaves at all. This law even contains the text of the letter the Prime Minister must write to the EU.
Look back at the earlier passage in this article that describes how the law governing the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was passed. First it was introduced by a member of the government – its first reading. The House talked about it. Then it had a second reading, then a third. After that, it went to the House of Lords where it was passed and became law. That is how it is done.
Yet this law taking power was not introduced by the government. It did not have three readings in the House of Commons. The tried-and-tested method of passing UK laws was ignored completely. To his eternal shame and discredit, this was allowed to happen by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.
We will leave Speaker Bercow out of this for now, despite the scandalous abuse of his position. Consider the enormity of what MPs have done. By rushing this law through parliament, it raises the possibility of a lawfully-appointed Prime Minister going to prison if he ignores it and follows the manifesto commitment of his party and other parties at the last election; a serving Prime Minister could be behind bars for doing what a majority of voters said he must do.
One has to wonder how this would be carried out. Would the PM be subject to a dawn raid by the police (whose duty is to enforce the law)? Would 10 Downing Street, the PM’s other homes and his offices be subject to simultaneous raids and both his personal property and his business property (in other words, government business) be seized as it might contain evidence of his law-breaking activity? That might sound extreme but it has happened. It happened to Damian Green MP and it happens to an untold number of ordinary people, their homes and their businesses and workplaces every day.
So Boris Johnson could end up in prison for defying the law. But this law did not exist until one afternoon last week. It was not the result of proper parliamentary procedure, with its three readings and debate before being passed by the Lords after they had debated it, before it gained assent from Her Majesty the Queen. The question thus arises; is this law lawful?
It may not be. If not, then it is bad law. So how might it be challenged? There are only two ways in which to challenge bad law. The first is by lobbying MPs to change it by either re-drafting it or repealing it. That obviously isn’t going to happen. The second is in a Court of Law.
If that should be what transpires and the judgement of the court is that this law is itself unlawful, the result of that will not by itself change it. What it will do is two things; firstly Boris Johnson would not necessarily be obliged to follow it and secondly, the judgement would set a precedent. What that does is render any further prosecutions unviable. The end result of that is that parliament then changes the bad law, as already suggested, by either by re-drafting it or repealing it.
Whatever the immediate result of the present fiasco, what is beyond doubt is that those MPs who have conspired not only to defy the will of the majority of voters, but also to deny the people a general election, have betrayed the United Kingdom, its people (regardless of how they voted in the EU referendum), parliament and democracy itself.
A general election however, is rather pointless if these same MPs are allowed to stand again. They must be removed and as quickly as it is possible for them to be. By replacing all of them with candidates who will represent the people properly and dutifully, those voters who have said they will not vote again can then do so.
© Kevan James 2019
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