Since our last article, it’s been a disquietingly calm week. Monday was, yet again, a day of pandemonium and chaos – David Cameron’s memoirs were scathing on Johnson’s political career, and the PM of Luxembourg threw him under a bus.
It was subjectively hilarious / infuriating, and at the very least a pretty dire diplomatic move.
But since then, the mood has calmed, despite the stakes being higher than ever.
We’ve been treated to a smorgasbord of mayhem over the last few weeks. Johnson has the worst voting record of a Prime Minister in living memory, he’s been routinely heckled and lambasted by the public, and our politics is reaching breaking point.
But the last few days have been different. A challenge to our political system, for sure, but something more serene.
While the last few weeks have seen various, nefarious parties kicking the proverbial beehive to see if they get stung, this week has seen the big boys come out to play.
Enter: the judicial system.
What In Christ’s Name Does That Mean
Ok look, the fact of the matter is that you shouldn’t have to know what the judicial system does. I mean, sure, you know that “juries” and “lawyers” and “judges” might sentence you to a million years in prison for that time you bought a train ticket without a Railcard.
Everyone knows that. And they will find you.
And they will punish you.
But what most people don’t know is that that very same system actually prevents our leaders from turning into Joseph Stalin.
The last few days have been excruciatingly exciting for nerds like me. But in order to understand why, you have to understand the British Constitution.
I know that for most of you reading this, you’d probably rather have your phone in a constant state of GPRS than actually learn about the intricacies of British constitutional law.
Luckily for you, I’m very generous. The below is about as basic and top-line as you can get, but explains how our system works.
It is also the first of many new infographics that Between the Lines is commissioning around British politics – please do get in touch with any requests for what to do next.
Ok, But What Does All Of This Mean?
Right, then. Have you been reading closely?
Johnson, Cummings, and the aides at No. 10 are The Executive. Somehow, that is where we’re now at – a full investigation into Cummings is in the pipeline for Between the Lines, and I urge you to read it upon its release.
Watch this space. Anyway.
By proroguing Parliament for the length of time they have suggested (five weeks), at the time they have done it, they have, arguably, denied The Legislature from scrutinising their policies.
Their main policy in this instance, if clarification was needed, is to leave on October 31st, deal, no-deal or bust. The Prime Minister himself has said so, many times.
Allegedly, Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament, denying it the chance to scrutinise his policies. He claimed that this was a perfectly ordinary thing to do, because he was in charge of a new government.
Traditionally, this is largely true – a new government would usually prorogue Parliament for a few days before a Queen’s Speech. At a Queen’s Speech, a new timetable would be announced for passing new laws and creating a new agenda for Parliament to consider.
Not only is this normal, it is a good way to govern – set out a timetable for when you wish to discuss things, allow your opponents an opportunity to scrutinise, and then create the laws that Parliament agrees to.
However, in this instance, Johnson used this power to deny Parliament a say in what is arguably the most divisive issue of our lifetime.
Ok, So Boris Used A Power He Had To Silence Parliament… Why Are Lawyers Now Involved?
Because there were two different legal cases run against the government last week. One in England (the Gina Miller one), and one in Scotland.
The English one failed, and the Scottish one (eventually) succeeded. The events at the Supreme Court this week dealt with both – an appeal against the English verdict, and the government trying to overturn the Scottish verdict.
Woof. Still with me? Let’s have a minute to decompress.
What Has Actually Happened?
According to my partner, who a) passed the bar some years back and b) is far more intelligent than me, it was “a legal ladyboner” to watch the very best judicial minds in the country at work.
Lord Keen, on behalf of Johnson’s government, said that prorogation, by the nature of it being the government’s prerogative, was entirely legal. For judges and lawyers to enter the fray would be, to quote, a “minefield.”
Our three pillars have to exist independently of one another. Lord Keen’s argument was that this would be the Judiciary influencing the Executive, which would breach constitutional law.
Lord Pannick, the exquisitely-named barrister for the defence (brought by Miller), gave a masterclass on constitutional law, and the need for a Supreme Court intervention.
His argument was thus: the Supreme Court exists to enforce the laws of the land, especially those of the constitution – i.e. the laws that define our society. Despite the need for separation of powers, were someone to act against the laws of the constitution, it is the judiciary’s responsibility to act.
Johnson, he argued, was acting unconstitutionally.
What evidence is there for this? Usually in cases like this, the government would be able to provide a witness, who would be legally bound to tell the truth to the court.
No-one within the confines of No. 10 was willing to be a witness, presumably because they were terrified of perjuring themselves (lying in court – a very serious crime).
Additionally, documents were released in the first wave of legal challenges against prorogation that implied that the government was manipulating constitutional law to its own advantage.
A bold, if stupid move, if proved to be true.
So What Happens Now?
Nothing until Monday, at the very earliest.
There are a plethora of different verdicts the Supreme Court could give, but the early warning signs suggest it will be a profoundly bad day for the government.
If the Supreme Court finds Johnson guilty:
- He might have to bring Parliament back early;
- He might also refuse to do so;
- If he does, Parliament will tear the Operation Yellowhammer documents to pieces as he will be forced to debate them in the House of Commons;
- Whatever happens, he might have to go to prison;
- No. Seriously. We might have to imprison our own Prime Minister.
It is unlikely. But frankly, so is everything these days.
If nothing else, Johnson has had a succession of appalling Mondays. It would either be fitting, tragic, or hilarious, depending on your views, that this next one might be the worst yet.
We await the ruling of the Supreme Court in anticipation. Whatever its verdict, however, it will be, without hyperbole, historic.
We live in strange times.
Enjoy your weekends!