Jonathan Edwards - Herald Column

The End of Westminster Democracy and What Happens Next

Being a Member of Parliament can be a surreal experience. This week I travelled down to London on the train after my usual Monday morning school run only to be informed by the time I had crossed the border that the British Government was closing parliament for five weeks that very evening.

The Prime Minister made the decision for two reasons.  Firstly in the middle of the biggest political crisis since the Second World War he wants to avoid as much scrutiny as possible.  The one week we have sat since July gave a clear indication of the ability of parliament to hold the executive to account – as it should in a representative democracy.   Secondly, the Prime Minister is operating a destructive and dangerous parliament v people strategy.  Nothing works up the electorate more than politicians being away from the day job.  For those baying for our blood this week – the decision to send us home was made by the British Government using its executive powers passed on by the Head of State. Members of the legislature had no say on our own suspension.  

I have previously written in this column how eventually Brexit would lead to a fundamental fight about where power lies within the British system.  With the legislature, the representatives of the people, or the executive.  The English Civil War settled this matter in favour of parliament, but the decision to suspend parliament against its will changes the course of history.   The British system is in very dangerous territory, especially since the Prime Minister has said he will ignore laws passed by parliament if he doesn’t agree with them.  Mr Johnson is acting like a totalitarian despot.   The true state of affairs is that this is not parliament vs the people – but the prime minister vs the people.  Be very careful what side you pick.

The big question is what happens next.  With parliament suspended for five weeks (unless the Supreme Court or the Scottish Courts intervene and rule the prorogation unlawful) MPs will return for the Queens Speech on the 14th of October, when the British Government will outline its proposed legislative programme.  The Commons will debate the proposed bills for five days before a crunch vote on the following Monday (October 21st).

Considering the Prime Minister managed to reduce his majority to minus 41 last week, its highly likely the legislative programme will not receive the consent of the House.  This would immediately lead to a confidence vote.  The weekend proceeding this showdown will be the crunch European Council – the Prime Minister will be hoping for a miracle because unless he returns with a solution to the inherent contradictions in Brexit he will be toast.

A confidence vote will trigger the provisions in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, and a 14 day window appears.   An opportunity will open for the formation of an alternative administration to settle Brexit once and for all by going back to the people in a referendum.   As I wrote in the Sunday Times before the summer recess, the General Election should come after Brexit is sorted.

The only problem is that the Labour Leadership prefer a high risk election – its strategic priority trumpeting its alleged policy position.  The 2017 snap election shows that an election is highly unlikely to solve anything.  

If the policy priority is a referendum the numbers in the Commons are there to deliver it now – why put an election middle man into the process.  The Labour position is ridiculous.  It wants a General Election in order to form a government tasked with repapering former Prime Ministers May deal.   Then they want a referendum in which they will campaign against their own deal.

Far be it for me to offer political advice to Labour, but such a complete incoherent fudge aimed at pleasing both Leavers and Remainers will be pulverised in an election campaign from both sides.   The Brexit Party - Tory axis on the one hand pushing a kamikaze no deal, and Plaid Cymru on the other pledging to end the chaos by revoking Article 50.

Astute readers will ask why I don’t support a sequence of events which will benefit my party.  I can only reply after three years of madness I want this issue settled once and for all - and my priority has always been the well being of my constituents and not my own.   That will be my guiding light in all my decisions for as long as I have the honour of serving the people of Carmarthenshire.

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  • John Ellis
    commented 2019-09-19 20:14:04 +0100
    “Far be it for me to offer political advice to Labour, but such a complete incoherent fudge aimed at pleasing both Leavers and Remainers will be pulverised in an election campaign from both sides.”

    Labour is already paying for its equivocation and there is no doubt that a relatively small minority in the country trust Corbyn. Brexit is not in good hands. Plaid Cymru is following the right path, and while I might not be a fan of Welsh Independence, it is good to have a party that is speaking sense in a UK-wide context.

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