When I signed the Church House Declaration on Tuesday pledging to uphold the sovereignty of Parliament, I warned that what Boris Johnson was threatening to do to secure his reckless ‘no deal’ Brexit amounted to a coup.
With today’s news Johnson will ask the Queen to suspend Parliament, that coup has already started.
It may not seem like a coup to members of the public who aren’t seeing tanks or soldiers on the streets. But constitutionally, that is what is happening.
Britain is a parliamentary democracy. Power rests in Parliament, in the House of Commons, and the government – the executive – has to seek the consent of MPs for its legislation. By suspending Parliament, Johnson is sweeping away the main pillar of our democracy. The implications could not be more serious.
His intention is clear. By proroguing, or suspending, Parliament for effectively five weeks at such a critical time in our country’s history, he is attempting to make it impossible for MPs – all democratically elected – to hold the government to account. Shutting down Parliament would give Johnson’s Number 10 free rein to carry on with its Brexit policy which will spell disaster for this country.
And that’s not all.
Boris Johnson and his right-wing cabal of ministers and insiders are attempting to paint this as the government standing up for the people against politicians. He has clearly spent the summer studying the playbook of populist dictators the world over.
The implications are huge and incredibly serious. If a prime minister can suspend parliament to deliver a ‘no deal’ Brexit, what will the government try to do next with no democratic scrutiny or oversight?
What makes this even worse is that the policy Johnson is pursuing – crashing out of the European Union without a deal – does not have a democratic mandate. Despite some ministerial claims, the Leave campaign never said the UK might leave the EU without a deal. In fact, they were saying the exact opposite. As recently as this spring, Leave campaign figurehead and Cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped to lead.”
This is not just a constitutional matter, important though that is. As the leaked report of the Government’s own Operation Yellowhammer revealed, a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be a massive act of self-harm for Britain, involving shortages of fresh food, fuel and medicines; a risk of a rise in public unrest and community tensions; passengers and freight being delayed at ports and airports and a hard Irish border, sparking protests.
Brexiteers claimed leaving the EU was all about “taking back control”. This is not the British people, or their elected representatives, taking back control. This is a blatant seizure of power by a small group of people in Downing Street.
Now, more than ever, MPs must stand up and be counted. I’m pleased that more than 200 from both sides of the House of Commons have already signed the Church House Declaration, pledging to block Johnson’s coup.
This is not just our country’s economic future at stake. This is our democracy at stake. All of us must be ready to defend it.
Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion