Wednesday, September 11, 2019


The democratic tradition that the U.K. Parliament has upheld and embodied for centuries has ended, at least for now. Until a general election can be called, Britain is experimenting with non-representative government. 

It still has a prime minister, the same political parties and the same loosely defined constitution — but don’t be fooled, its Parliament has gone rogue.

Last week, MPs derailed the Johnson government’s Brexit initiative, and this week they blocked a general election for a second time.

More than three years ago, the British people voted to leave the European Union, and ever since the cross-party, “Remainer” majority has tried to stop Brexit from happening.

While Theresa May was in power, there was still a veneer of democratic respectability. It may have been fake as she had no intention of fully leaving, but at least the system appeared to be working.

Once Boris Johnson took over and boldly proclaimed, “We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts,” the pretense was over and “Remainers” spent their summer making plans to stop the government from governing. 

When Parliament reopened on Sept. 3, it would be anything but business as usual. 

Even as Mr. Johnson was giving his speech, one of his own MPs got up and walked over to join the Liberal Democrat Party. With those small steps the government’s tiny majority of one was gone and that was just for starters.

Against the government’s wishes, MPs were then given permission by the speaker of the House of Commons to vote to extend the Oct. 31 leave date if the U.K. has not agreed a deal with the EU.

Unlike the U.S. House of Representatives, the speaker in Parliament is supposed to be neutral, but Speaker John Bercow allowed MPs to vote knowing full well that the majority of them, like him, were “Remainers.”

Not surprisingly, the vote passed, and because it is unlikely a new agreement will be reached before then, Brexit could be postponed again — this time until Jan. 31.

Retribution was swift and the 21 “Remainer” Conservative MPs who voted against the government were sacked. Mr. Bercow then resigned as did others, including Mr. Johnson’s own brother, Jo.

The rebels were now gone, but so was Mr. Johnson’s parliamentary majority. To try to gain a new one, he wanted a general election. However, that decision is no longer up to a prime minister alone.

Since 2011, when David Cameron introduced his ill-thought-through Fixed-term Parliaments Act, it requires a two-thirds majority to call an election outside of the set five-year term. But how can a minority government ever manage that? 

Boris Johnson tried twice and, unsurprisingly, was voted down in both attempts. The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, also refused to call for a no-confidence vote in him as that would have also led to an election. 

Governments often cling on to power but keeping one there against its wishes is very unusual. Yet, it suits the “Remainers” purposes to see the Conservatives nominally in power but unable to overrule the opposition’s voting majority.

“Remainers” also know that if an election was called the Brexit-majority British public would vote many of them out — perhaps a great many of them.

So, the U.K. is now stuck with a minority government unable to get laws passed without help from other parties until 2022, or until it suits “Remainers” to bring it down. 

America is used to sometimes having a divided government where one party controls the executive and the other party runs both sides of the legislature, but at least the president can get things done by signing an executive order.

A U.K. prime minister can only pass laws with a voting majority. Until David Cameron messed the system up, if they no longer had one an election could be called. This ensured the U.K. had strong governments that ruled with the people’s consent. Now Britain is effectively being ruled by parties that lost the election and Jeremy Corbyn is pulling the strings.

On Monday night, the longest-sitting parliamentary session since the English civil war was ended — although a Scottish court has now ruled even this decision of Mr. Johnson’s was somehow unlawful.

That 17th-century sitting became known as the “Long Parliament” and was despised. Will this “Remainer Parliament” be similarly despised by history? After all, its last wretched act was to deny the people a general election. 

Boris Johnson is now a weakened leader and his administration is neither fully alive nor dead; it is a zombie government. 

He recently stated he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than ask the EU for an extension beyond Oct. 31. Does that mean he will make a “Remainer” friendly deal, or defy the new law and leave without a deal, or simply resign? 

• Andrew Davies is a U.K.-based video producer and scriptwriter.

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