12/09/2019 20:41 BST | Updated 13/09/2019 12:22 BST

How The Law May Bite Back At Boris Johnson. Big Time

A written constitution, something John Bercow now appears to support, would complicate things for the prime minister.

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Judge dread

No one expected John Bercow to go gently into the good night of his Commons speakership. His granting of emergency debates recently showed he clearly fully intends to make life as difficult as possible for Boris Johnson’s attempts to sideline parliament, despite the prorogation.

But tonight, Bercow went even further as he delivered the annual lecture at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. The clue was in the title as he warned he won’t let the PM get round the Benn Act, recently passed to delay Brexit beyond October 31 in the event of no-deal.

The Speaker said that suggestions that Johnson could defy the law were “frankly astonishing”. Moreover, he used a comparison that was very pointed indeed, claiming it would be like justifying “robbing a bank on the basis that the cash stolen would be donated to a charitable cause immediately afterwards.”

That felt very much like a jibe at Johnson’s own infamous remarks about Muslim women in burkas looking like ‘bank robbers’. The echoes of Labour MP Tan Singh Dhesi’s stinging attack on the PM were not hard to hear.

Bercow then doubled down. In one typically verbose section he ad-libbed from his script to actually compare Johnson to a knife-wielding street gang member:

“Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter. What conceivable moral force do the public’s elected representatives have in seeking to tackle anti-social behaviour, in prosecuting with greater vigour and relentlessness the fight against knife crime, arguing the state must protect itself against all sorts of nefarious illegality, if we are to treat for the moment of the proposition that it might be in order … to disregard a law enacted by parliament?”

Told you it was verbose, but you get the point. 

Most interesting of all, Bercow gave a less than veiled hint that he would fully facilitate any novel wheezes by MPs to bind the PM’s hands. “I would imagine that parliament would want to cut off such a possibility and to do so forcefully. If that demands additional procedural creativity to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen and that neither the limitations of the existing rulebook nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so.” Ominous? You betcha.

Bercow then rolled out the big gun which he thinks will blitz Boris. He said a new “Parliamentary Powers Act might be introduced to entrench the authority of the House of Commons and ensure that the rule of law is never distorted or perverted by executive malpractice”. Boom. Shak-a-laka.

There’s no question that some in government have been actively looking at just how and whether the Benn Act can be challenged in court. Dominic Raab has already suggested he wants to ‘test’ the law, while upholding the law.

In our Commons People podcast this week, former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer pours a bucket of manure over the very suggestion, telling us it is “low class garbage” to even propagate the idea.


“So when Dominic Raab says, ‘We want to test it,’ yeah, you’ve got to have something to test it with. So what is ‘it’? Because there’s nothing, there’s obviously nothing. That is total, utter and complete rubbish. The judge will say you can legislate for anything … including sending a letter.”

Which brings us back to Bercow. Tonight he said on the record for the first time that he had now come round to the idea of a written constitution. He stressed that because he was quitting ‘this is not a power grab’, but said a new Royal Commission or Speaker’s conference could look at the idea. One can easily imagine a Corbyn government picking this up and running with it.

If so, Johnson would have ushered in an Americanisation of the UK, but not in quite the Trumpian way many feared. And of course a written constitution would mean the Supreme Court was more powerful than ever. The ‘enemies of the people’ would get a permanent role in our political system. Were that to occur, Johnson’s epitaph really would be inadvertently historic: he fought the law and the law won.

Quote Of The Day

“The Queen’s Speech will confirm we will be reintroducing domestic abuse legislation in the next session.”

– BorisJohnson finally realises the political damage of not ‘carrying over’ the domestic violence bill.

Thursday Cheat Sheet

Boris Johnson declared that he had ‘absolutely not’ lied to the Queen about his request to suspend parliament for five weeks. Well, there’s no going back from that one. Unless … he actually was economical with the actualite rather than outright lying?

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said Brexit was “hopefully” going to happen on October 31. The eagle eyed spotted that was not exactly ‘do or die’ pledge outlined by his boss and long-time political friend.

Antoinette Sandbach, one of the 21 Tory MPs who had the whip withdrawn for daring to vote against the government, became the latest backbencher to become a convert to the cause of a second referendum. She tweeted the news in a letter to her constituents.

Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck, one of the new cross-party ‘MPs for a Deal’ group, said she would rather go into coalition with the Brexit Party rather than the Lib Dems. Why? Because she could never sign up to revoking Article 50, Jo Swinson’s new policy.

John McDonnell floated yet another radical Labour policy, this time for encouraging firms to move towards a four-day working week. At the launch of a report by economist (and Keynes biographer) Lord Skidelsky, he said Labour would be “looking at how we can reduce the typical working week without loss of pay”.

The Lib Dems came up with a bold new policy of their own, giving £9,000 to over-25s for lifelong education. Curiously, that’s exactly the same figure that tuition fees were hiked to under the Con-Lib coalition. Surely someone thought of that symbolism … didn’t they?

What I’m Reading

This tape rewrites everything we knew about the Beatles - The Guardian

(It’s not politics, but hey we all need something else in our lives)

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