Brexit has exposed a big weakness in Britain’s political system and culture

What is going on in Britain that has paralysed its politics and led to a near-civil war amongst the political elite? One might very reasonably think that it’s about EU membership and a near complete and equal polarisation between Leave and Remain, but if one steps back to take an overview, there are also more fundamental issues about the British political system and political culture that can strike more detached observers. The UK is entering its third general election in 4 years, called by PM Johnson to try to break the deadlock in Parliament and secure his deal just agreed with the EU and leave the EU on 31 January 2020. Attention naturally shifts to the offerings of the parties and who is likely to emerge the victor, the Leave side led by Johnson, or a mixed bag of opponents … Read more

To be or not to be – the battle for Brexit reaches its climax

Next week could see a Parliamentary victory for Johnson on his negotiated Brexit deal but this might merely be a battle won and not the war Yet again the right wing Brexiteers have been frustrated in their attempts to take Britain out of the EU by the sheer fact of a lack of a majority and thus opposition in Parliament to their efforts. His goal has been to try to realise Brexit by 31 October in order to fulfil his promise in his earlier campaign to become leader of the Tories. This goal may also account for the very arbitrary and overly forceful way that he has proceeded and the resistance that that has engendered. Prime Minister Johnson returned from Brussels brandishing Brexit Deal Mark Two only to see it shot down on Saturday as MP’s realised that his attempt … Read more

When the Prime Minister threatens democratic norms of behaviour

Where do we go from here? One might now be urgently asking the question, where is our democracy heading now? While the Tories are conferencing this week in Manchester, the city of Peterloo, one might reflect on the irony of their choice of city in the bicentenary year of the Massacre by the local yeomanry of peaceful Mancunian citizens who did not have the vote and who had turned out in their Sunday best with families to hear “Orator” Hunt demand Parliamentary reform and the extension of the franchise. The achievement of democracy in Britain, admittedly within the limitations revealed this week, was hard fought in the 109 or so years that followed, and in 1819 the landed aristocrat-led government was clamping down on such radicals, seen as “Jacobins”, for fear of revolution. One might legitimately wonder what version of … Read more

Johnson is acting as a populist demogogue for Brexit and against democracy

Last night the UK’s populist demogogue Prime Minister returned to face the music after his defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court judges over his prorogation of Parliament, not with contrition but with aggressive defiance. In so doing, he confirmed in many people’s minds that this man is determined on his strategy to force a General Election over his push for Brexit as a “People versus the Politicians” election. A populist demogogue This is the behaviour of a dangerous populist demogogue with, it appears, potentially “strongman” authoritarian leanings and democracy as we know it is in danger in pursuit of both Brexit and a neoliberal hidden agenda behind Brexit. Their approach is that the end justifies the means, as No. 10 chief advisor Cummings has said, “Brexit by any means necessary”. Far from respecting the verdict of the judges … Read more

A victory in the Supreme Court for the rule of law and constitutionality

On the face of it, today’s Supreme Court verdict has been a triumph for the rule of law and constitutionality in the UK conflict over Brexit. However, the conflict has still a long way to go, and there is still plenty of scope for near-illegal action by the Johnson regime and for his Parliamentary opponents to bring the regime to heal and halt the slide to systemic breakdown. The Supreme Court ruling Today in an historic landmark ruling the UK Supreme Court ruled as unlawful and void PM Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament. Despite fears that it would not want to intrude into relations between the executive and the legislature as regards the exercise of the royal prerogative, it chose to do just that. It ruled that: The case was “justiciable”, that the courts could rule on the prorogation of Parliament … Read more

A profound political gap underlies the Brexit storm and the right-wing shift

For some time there has been a profound political gap between the excitement of the UK politically engaged and the indifference or rejection “out there” beyond the Westminster bubble. For those willing to take a closer look, the attitude of the latter towards the Brexit crisis, and its origins, goes a long way to explain why the crisis is evolving as it is now. This detachment from, and in some parts of the country an outright rejection of, liberal democracy, can help explain Johnson’s current belligerent and almost anti-democratic tactics. Johnson is firing up his base To many in the Westminster bubble and the politically active sections of society, there is a massive struggle going on over Brexit, in which Johnson has recently prorogued Parliament to, it is assumed, limit debate and reduce the chances of Parliament obstructing his strategy … Read more

How charismatic populism is a threat to the survival of democracy in Britain

Today the UK Parliament enters upon an extended period of suspension, of prorogation, in the midst of one of the biggest crises the British state has encountered since the crises of the Stuart era in the 17th century. Such is the evolution of the current crisis over Brexit that we now have a struggle for power between the executive and legislature as happened in that earlier era. What has stood out recently is how the act of prorogation has been another measure of what an observer has called “executive exceptionalism” in the name of popular sovereignty against that of representative democracy, but also one where a charismatic authoritarianism risks being allowed at the expense of the requirements of elective democratic consent to the actions of the executive. What is so dangerous is that these actions are teaching people a lesson … Read more

A cliffhanger democratic crisis of Parliament versus a Brextremist government

This week in the Brexit democratic crisis has been powerfully dramatic, with cliffhanger votes in Parliament, the government taken to court by activists, demonstrations about democracy in danger, threats to act unconstitutionally by the Prime Minister, MPs being thrown out of the Tory party, an opposition Parliamentary alliance in the face of an arbitrary, undemocratic executive, and the government’s loss of its majority. The Brexit crisis is now seriously impacting the very heart of the British system of government. Where will this lead? A bill passes Parliament to prevent a No Deal Brexit on 31 October The House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, in an emergency debate on 3 September passed a motion to take control of business the next day to introduce a backbench bill, known as the Benn bill after its sponsor Hilary Benn,  to prevent … Read more

How Johnson’s prorogation tactic threatens democracy itself

Why has Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament shortly before Brexit caused such outrage? Non-UK readers might be puzzled but to many observers within the UK, in the midst of the struggle over Brexit that has fractured the nation, it is already being called a “coup”, an “attack on democracy”, and an “authoritarian” action from the leader of the Vote Leave movement who campaigned in the name of democracy. More thoughtful observers say that within reactionary nationalist populism in many countries there is an authoritarian undercurrent, and this is arguably its British manifestation. Democratic outrage Prime Minister Johnson’s announcement of the prorogation of Parliament until shortly before Britain is due to leave the EU has stunned and outraged many democrats. The Speaker of the House of Commons has called it a “constitutional outrage”. Observers should by now be under no illusion that … Read more

The authoritarianism inherent in Brexiter populism nears the surface

It is now hard not to take the view that the ruthless pursuit of the goal of Brexit is now No. 10’s order of the day, “by all means necessary” in the words of the alleged brief given to the effective Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings by PM Johnson and the Vote Leave team now controlling the executive. That ruthlessness has an urgent domestic priority, to break the Parliamentary resistance to Brexit as formulated by No.10. If that means a No Deal Brexit, so be it. In terms of the relationship with the EU, this will not resolve the problems of a breakdown in the trading relationship with Britain’s by-far biggest market. In domestic terms it comes at a massive price in both an economic recession, a failure in Parliamentary democracy and a possible shift towards authoritarianism. It is not … Read more

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