Saturday 15 June 2019

Using the Fixed-term Parliaments Act

So the current national breakdown or political psychodrama moves on, as people detect that the chances of a crash out of the European Union increase.

Boris Johnson is almost now assured of walking into Number Ten Downing Street as Prime Minister. At the same time, enough Labour MPs failed to support their own party's motion which was to take control of the House of Commons business in order to introduce legislation to prevent (at least from our side) a no deal exit from the European Union. This is the effect of their action: causing serious economic damage to their own constituents mainly in the north of England.

At the same time Chuka Umunna has joined the Liberal Democrats. Of course he should be welcomed, even if it took him some rethinks to do it. He might seem to some to lack some credibility in his jumping about, but it does the Liberal Democrats no harm at all in its rebuilding at present. He may help others to come over more directly, or indeed go elsewhere if they have a problem with him and/ or the Liberal Democrats.

'Desperation is the English way,' sing Pink Floyd, and this is certainly why Johnson picked up 114 votes of Tory MPs. He is like drinking Heineken and Marmite at the same time. He is supposed to reach where other Tories do not, but also he is strongly disliked by many. He is offensive in his phrases, but also seems to lack political principle. This is supposed also to be a strength, but vacuousness in Theresa May was a definite weakness.

Johnson has no command of detail, so it is likely that at Prime Minister's Questions he will be a duff performer, trying to use words to get himself out of situations. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that he will face an equally lousy performer in Jeremy Corbyn. A better opposition leader could have pinned Theresa May down in her lacklustre and avoidance answers (she was, though, on top of her brief - such that it was), but it will be up to others to pin Johnson down and expose him.

The main task of all of the opposition will be to question his legitimacy (just as he did regarding Gordon Brown in 2007). Johnson is likely to win an immediate vote of no confidence, but this would be a starting point from which he will start to lose support. He is likely to tack this way and that as the same conundrums face him as they did Theresa May. As for others, deprived of the softer way of taking control and preventing a no deal exit from the European Union, Members of Parliament will have to keep its own eye on the clock.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 introduced Statute Law into calling a General Election, and took away the Crown power invested in the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament. Instead, there are 14 days following a no confidence vote in which to hold a confidence vote, either in the government that lost it or some alternative. It's the alternative that then matters. It does not have to be the official opposition. It could be a government put together specifically for the purpose of preventing a no deal exit, and its Prime Minister appointed by the Monarch to gain confidence after 14 days and thus do the important tasks needed. This is then Government commanding Parliament, as in our constitution so far, rather than Parliament acting as Government, as in the 'take over' attempt that just failed its early stages.

There are Conservatives who will bring down Johnson if he leads the country towards no deal, and he likely will because the EU is in transition until beyond October 31st, the day we are due to leave. No doubt someone might negotiate with us, but until there are renewed institutions they cannot offer anything. The leadership election, save Harper, Stewart and, oddly, Leadsom (because she didn't expect to renegotiate anything), is a fantasy of promises about negotiating.

We presume that on a no confidence vote, the Labour MPs who recently kept no deal on the table will not vote confidence in the Johnson led Government, that they then will fall in with their party. But some may not, if they think it is a means to extend or revoke via a temporary Executive, even before a following General Election. One reason that the vote of no confidence may fail is Corbyn himself, a man increasingly a liability to get anywhere politically today. He almost has to agree to stand back somewhat, and delay his socialist dawn for the sake of national crisis.

Corbyn is as brittle and aloof as Theresa May, which is why Labour MPs became furious with him last week. He has to be overcome as much as she had to be overcome.

Nevertheless there must be cross-party work now, in order to get an Executive to do what is needed, including taking over from Johnson. The numbers are there to do this.

Of course the Executive may well try to prorogue Parliament, but this would involve the Monarch in the Privy Council doing what Charles I tried to do. This would in fact be the Prime Minister using monarchic powers with the Privy Council. Yet these high intsitutions might well say the House of Commons should vote on this first, to avoid what would be an extraordinary attempt at a coup by a Prime Minister without the legislature behind him. The Commons could quickly demonstrate its view, and then move rapidly to a vote of No Confidence to get Johnson's wings removed.

The man is unsuitable to govern. The House of Commons, indeed Parliament as a whole, must box him in quickly. He lacks legitimacy leading a minority government. But Parliament has to act to get Executive Power changed, and if the recent method has failed then the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 201l is the way to do this.

No comments: