If a week is a long time in politics, the two weeks since Boris Johnson’s government announced the prorogation of parliament has been an age. Johnson has lost his majority, lost (or ejected) 22 Conservative MPS, and lost six out of his first six votes in Parliament. Since the dramatic scenes at the close of parliament on Monday night, we have learned that the government’s act of prorogation is unlawful (subject to an appeal to the UK Supreme Court to be heard next Tuesday), and that even the barest of outlines of Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s contingency plan for a No Deal Brexit, is enough to demonstrate that Project Fear was always Project Reality. (Here’s a pithy Yellowhammer summary in summary.)
On Monday, perennial thorn-in-the-Brexiters’-side Dominic Grieve moved a successful humble address requiring that the government release details of its internal discussions about prorogation, as well as its Operation Yellowhammer documents, by Wednesday 11 September. When the latter limped out last night, they were far short of the reams of documents one would expect of any bureaucratic preparations, showing that the government is continuing its approach of giving parliament as little as it can get away with. But even these five brief pages, with one section redacted, contain enough to confirm the worst. Comparing the released document with one leaked to the Sunday Times a month ago indicates that the redacted section discusses how No Deal will lead to the closure of two oil refineries, out of the six major refineries in the UK. But then we probably won’t need as much fuel when traffic flows across the Channel reduce to 40%-60% of current levels on day one of No Deal, increasing after three months to 50%-70%.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove accompanied the hastily-assembled Yellowhammer precis with a letter to Grieve explaining why he was ignoring the demands of the sovereign parliament of the UK for details of government prorogation deliberations, no doubt earning himself a starring role in a future finding that the government is again in contempt of parliament. But the developments in the Scottish Supreme Court may have made this moot: as things stand, the prorogation of parliament is unlawful, and from a legal standpoint it should be considered still in session until the UK Supreme Court rules otherwise. Mysteriously, this ruling didn’t seem to bother England’s right-wing press. It probably doesn’t bother the rich backers of Boris Johnson and Vote Leave, either.
Welcome to another day in Brexit hell.
The high court in Belfast has ruled that prorogation was lawful. Stand by for contorted Leaver arguments that Northern Ireland’s judges are much more impartial than Scottish judges, best out of three, no backsies, etc.
The worry is that a Supreme Court finding next week that Johnson’s actions were lawful, that it’s a political rather than a legal matter and that a government can prorogue for any reason they like and for however long they wish, would mean that there’s nothing to stop a government from proroguing parliament indefinitely—that the only thing standing between Britain and dictatorship are the whims of the electorate, a broken electoral system and easily ignored constitutional convention.
As an aside, here’s a piece on the Rees-Mogg memes that flooded Twitter last week, and how they sit with outdated parliamentary rules on the use of images from its chambers. I liked cyriak’s animated version and Rees-Mogg as Ophelia.