Today’s travesty of democracy – when parliament is robbed of control, so are we

“DEMOCRACY” by SUXSIEQ is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Johnson hates scrutiny. Hates being checked up on. Hates being called to account. That is what is behind his strategy, employed throughout his life, of making sure everything goes to the wire, bulldozing opposition and forcing acquiescence while sneaking through changes that would never be approved in any normal circumstance. From the day he just rocked up, unrehearsed, to wreck the performance of Richard III at school to this gun-to-the-head Brexit deal, it’s what he does. And it’s very, very dangerous. It’s Trumpian with knobs on. It’s government by fiat and it’s yet another giant step towards autocracy.

Twitter is abuzz today with constitutional experts and historians warning us that control is being wrested from parliament.

Here is Robert Saunders, Reader in British History at Queen Mary’s University, London:

“The big story in Parliament today really isn’t which of three bad options the Opposition parties will choose. It is the absolute travesty of parliamentary democracy that is about to play out: a microcosm of the shattering effect Brexit has had on our constitution.

MPs are being asked to shovel through, in a single day, a bill that was published yesterday, implementing a treaty agreed six days ago, which comes into force tomorrow night. The European Communities Act 1972 was debated in Parliament for 300 hours. Today’s bill will get about 5.

MPs will have at most four minutes to speak on a trade agreement covering more than 1,200 pages. Few will have had time to read it anyway, and their votes will mostly be cast by the Whips. The entire charade will be over shortly after lunch.

Today’s legislation doesn’t just transform our trade relations. As @jeff_a_king points out, it gives ministers the power to rewrite vast swathes of domestic law without further scrutiny. It is a massive transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive.

Parliament has to do this with the legislative equivalent of a gun to its head. The UK’s current terms of trade with the EU cease to exist in 48 hrs. MPs cannot inflict a crash-out on their constituents, so all that’s left for the Opposition parties to argue about is positioning.

It is very doubtful, watching today’s proceedings, whether the UK can still accurately be described as a “parliamentary democracy”. It is, increasingly, an “executive democracy”, in which the largest party doesn’t just dominate Parliament, but actively removes it from decision-making.

Brexit has turbo-charged what @davidallengreen & Thomas Poole call “the Executive Power Project”: the transfer of power & democratic legitimacy from Parliament to the largest party. This should alarm anyone who thinks that scrutiny, debate & pluralism are important to a democracy

As @Brigid_Fowler writes:
“The UK Parliament’s proceedings on the TCA will be a farce”; “an abdication of Parliament’s constitutional responsibilities to deliver proper scrutiny of the executive & of the law.”

Ministers have indeed “taken back control” – not from “Europe”, but from Parliament. Britain’s parliamentary democracy emerged out of a 300-year struggle between Parliament and the Executive. It is the cavaliers, not the parliamentarians, who will be laughing tonight.

Originally tweeted by Robert Saunders (@redhistorian) on 30/12/2020.

The Bill implementing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is an exercise in the Government taking power from Parliament

Today’s post at the Law and Policy blog on how this extraordinary and unsatisfactory legislation is being enacted

Originally tweeted by Law and Policy Blog (@law_and_policy) on 30/12/2020.

David Allen Green summarises clause 3 thus:

This provision will empower ministers (or the devolved authorities, where applicable) to make regulations with the same effect as if those regulations were themselves acts of parliament.

In other words: they can amend laws and repeal (or abolish) laws, with only nominal parliamentary involvement.

There are some exceptions (under clause 31(4)), but even with those exceptions, this is an extraordinarily wide power for the executive to legislate at will.

These clauses are called ‘Henry VIII‘ clauses and they are as notorious among lawyers as that king is notorious in history.”

And we should be very worried about an executive with such scant regard for the rule of law in any event.

And here is a reminder of Femi’s superb calling out of Johnson’s lies to date:

The bill will pass today. The vote is a sham.

It is easy to feel powerless in the circumstances but this must not result in us shrugging and turning away in defeat and despair. It is plain to see that this Conservative government and party will do anything and everything to cling on to power.

But true democracy is still there to be fought for and the key is electoral reform. Electoral reform must be a central plank of Labour’s manifesto. Please support Make Votes Matter and campaign for the change that will give us representation and thwart the kleptocrats from wrecking the UK for a generation and beyond.