Could the Queen sack Johnson? Would she?

by John Quiggin on September 2, 2019

Having vague ideas of Parliamentary supremacy, I’m struck by reports that Boris Johnson could simply ignore a vote of no-confidence, and remain office to push through a No Deal Brexit, even in the face of legislation prohibiting such a course of action. As far as I can tell, these arguments are based on the premise that Parliament must nominate an alternative, and the assumption that neither Corbyn nor anyone else would prove acceptable to a majority. (Update: On more careful reading of the linked article I see that the new boss, Cummings, saying that Johnson could, for which I read would, ignore a vote for a new PM).

That might be true, and then again it might not. The question that occurs to me is whether Johnson could also ignore a vote in favour of a new PM, and if so, what could be done about it? One possibility is that the Queen could dismiss him, and invite the new PM to form a government, which would presumably hold immediate elections.

That, pretty much, is what happened in Australia in 1975, though the government’s position was far more tenable than in the hypothetical that I’ve outlined above. The government had a majority in the House of Representatives (our equivalent of the Commons). However, the government was unpopular and the Senate (similar to the US Senate in most respects) refused Supply, creating a financial crisis. The Governor-General (representing the Queen) sacked the PM (Whitlam) and installed the Leader of the Opposition (Fraser) in his place. Fraser called an election and won.

I honestly have no idea whether if Johnston refused to go, he could be removed, by the monarch or otherwise. For that matter, could he get the Queen to prorogue Parliament indefinitely, and govern by decree? That sounds inconceivable, but maybe only in the sense of Vizzini in the Princess Bride.

It’s worth noting that the absence of a written constitution isn’t the critical issue here, or at least not to the extent often claimed. Australia has a constitution, but it’s silent on all the relevant issues (it doesn’t even mention the office of a PM).

That’s enough from me. Useful links and informed comments much appreciated.

{ 59 comments }

1

Christian Haesemeyer 09.02.19 at 6:23 am

Since we are asking – maybe somebody can explain how parliament would demonstrate at all support for an alternative government – unless I’m way off it’s not like Germany where they can simply vote one into office. So formally it seems to me the Queens would have to invite someone to form a new government and they then would have to survive a confidence vote – but how would parliament signal who to ask (esp. if it was not the obvious choice, the leader of the opposition).

2

Dipper 09.02.19 at 7:06 am

This is all getting ridiculous.

As I understand it, allowing the introduction of the Fixed Term Parliament Act in 2011, the process is roughly this: Government loses a vote of no confidence. Johnson has 14 days to put together a new government. If he cannot do it and there is no alternative, then he schedules a General Election which he can do to fall after we have left at the end of October.

This relies on Parliament not being able to form an alternative administration, and in all likelihood it won’t. No alternative can be formed without the support of Labour, and currently that means Jeremy Corbyn. It is unlikely Corbyn can get a majority as he is fairly toxic to many Remainers. It is possible that a non-threatening elder statesman like Ken Clarke could be PM but unlikely that Corbyn would accept this.

Corbyn wants an election after No Deal. That’s his big chance. He isn’t going to stop it.

Johnson wants a general election, but he wants it when he wants it. What he is doing is entirely in line with what the constitution permits. Parliament can try and stop it, and the speaker may allow constitutional innovations that permit them. We will see.

There are several elements to ‘the UK constitution’. The monarchy, the government, the Commons, the Lords, the courts, the People. The notion that Parliament should do what it wants when it wants, including tearing up the promises they made to the people in their manifestoes, without scrutiny from anyone else is ridiculous. If a politician announces the day after their election that they’ve changed their minds about everything they stood for when we elected them, how do we know that’s their conscience speaking and not someone else’s wallet? Checks and balances exist for a reason.

3

Fergus 09.02.19 at 7:39 am

There was a fair bit of discussion of this possibility a few weeks ago; most of it was on Twitter rather than in full articles. Needless to say it’s very controversial and people’s opinions depend a lot on their stance on Brexit issues more broadly! But my read of what experts were saying overall was that if there was a clearly identified alternative who was more likely to command a majority in Parliament, and Johnson refused to step down, the Queen could sack him and would probably be right to do so – but that that was no guarantee she actually _would_ given the palace’s very strong desire to not get embroiled in politics.

@1, the process would look very similar to what happens after elections producing no overall majority. You’re right that Parliament can only vote confidence in an actually-existing government, but there is a more-or-less established process which involves a handful of senior civil servants and senior royal advisers facilitating and observing negotiations between parties/MPs, and coming to a view about who is best-placed to have the confidence of parliament. But I think it’s a fair question how well this would work if the PM was not cooperative, as Gordon Brown was in 2010. (To give the most obvious example, it was Brown who instructed the head of the civil service to start the process, and he subsequently resigned when the negotiations made clear that David Cameron was in a better position to form a government.)

4

Chris Bertram 09.02.19 at 8:27 am

@Dipper writes:

The notion that Parliament should do what it wants when it wants, including tearing up the promises they made to the people in their manifestoes, without scrutiny from anyone else is ridiculous.

Whether or not it is ridiculous, the idea that election manifesto promises are binding contracts that restrict what Parliament may do is not part of the British constitution. Rather the contrary, in fact.

5

Dipper 09.02.19 at 9:25 am

@ Chris Bertram ” the idea that election manifesto promises are binding contracts that restrict what Parliament may do is not part of the British constitution”. The House of Lords is meant to consider and send back bills that are outside the manifesto or contradict the manifesto. They won’t in this case, because they are clearly pro-EU.

This Parliament is clearly looking to break the various promises they gave at various times. Parliament voted to allow the government to trigger Article 50 and now is effectively seeking to prevent that bill from operating. They are clearly operating without any consideration for the platforms they stood on, hence without mandate.

The way to sort this is to have a general election so Parliament can get a fresh mandate for the route they wish to take. Why is parliament so keen to avoid this?

6

J-D 09.02.19 at 10:06 am

The most recent occurrence of the dismissal of a Prime Minister by the monarch in UK history was in 1834. But there’s been since then no explicit change to the law such as would deprive the monarch of such a power, so there’s no explicit legal basis for supposing that it no longer exists. I suppose one might speculate about how a court might rule if the question were ever to get before it, but I can’t imagine how the question would ever get before a court.

For that matter, could he get the Queen to prorogue Parliament indefinitely, and govern by decree?

If you’re asking whether that would be a lawful course of action, the answer is that it wouldn’t be, and hasn’t been since 1689 (see ‘Glorious Revolution’, ‘Bill Of Rights’, ‘Claim Of Right’).

Christian Haesemeyer

Since we are asking – maybe somebody can explain how parliament would demonstrate at all support for an alternative government – unless I’m way off it’s not like Germany where they can simply vote one into office.

I know of no reason why the House of Commons in the United Kingdom should not follow a course of action similar to the one taken by the House of Representatives in Australia in 1975. After the Governor-General had (as described above by John Quiggin) dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam and his government and commissioned Opposition Leader Fraser to form a (caretaker) government (pending an election), the House of Representatives carried a resolution expressing its want of confidence in the Prime Minister (that is, Fraser) and requesting the Speaker to advise the Governor-General to call Whitlam (‘the member for Werriwa’) to form a government.

In the Australian 1975 case, what happened (predictably in the circumstances) was that the Speaker attempted to convey the House’s advice to the Governor-General as he had been directed to do, but the Governor-General didn’t receive the Speaker until after the writs for an election had been issued. However, in the different circumstances in the UK now, if the House of Commons carried a resolution expressing want of confidence in Prime Minister Johnson (and his government) and advising that some named individual (whether it was Corbyn or somebody else) be called to form a government, I can’t think of anything that would prevent its advice being acted on. I don’t say that it’s certain that the Queen would dismiss Johnson if he proved intransigent, but to me it seems more likely than not; in any case, if a majority resolution of the Commons named the person they wanted as Prime Minister instead of Johnson, I think it unlikely he’d prove intransigent (no matter how Dominic Cummings enjoys mouthing off now), so there’d be no call for the Queen to make the decision in any case (which is, of course, how she prefers it).

It’s all academic, though, unless a majority can be found in the Commons for a different government, and I incline to agree with Dipper that this is unlikely.

7

SusanC 09.02.19 at 10:29 am

@Dipper: party manifestos are non-binding.

Though I suspect that too much abuse of that has led to our current situation. The voters can vote for someone else next time if they feel a party has let them down. (See: the Liberal Democrats).

However, once a large chunk of the voters start thinking that all the main parties can’t be trusted, we have a big problem.

The looming Brexit has an additional complication in that once it has happened, it will be hard to undo by voting out Boris and voting in someone else.

8

Collin Street 09.02.19 at 10:35 am

Dipper is a liar, Chris.

From the other thread.
The Executive then produces a programme of legislation which they announce in a Queen’s Speech. They then control parliamentary time to bring this legislation to parliament, and parliament approves, amends, rejects, as to its preference.

This is not an error you can make; all discussions of this process talk about the outlawries bill and how it represents the house of commons’ control over its own order paper. “The first thing they do after hearing the queen’s speech is to talk about something entirely different, just to prove they can”. Any research whatsoever would have revealed this.

If Dipper doesn’t know that the house of commons membership and not the executive control the house of commons debate… he can’t. It’s not possible. He’s lying. It’s no longer sustainable to act otherwise.

9

Doug 09.02.19 at 10:38 am

The questions about the PM proroguing Parliament are what I find puzzling. Parliament is sovereign, not the PM; if a majority of Parliament wants to sit, then sit it shall. Anything else is just posturing.

10

anon. 09.02.19 at 10:48 am

including tearing up the promises they made to the people in their manifestoes, without scrutiny from anyone else is ridiculous. If a politician announces the day after their election that they’ve changed their minds about everything they stood for when we elected them, how do we know that’s their conscience speaking and not someone else’s wallet?
*cough*the coalition*coughcough*!

11

MFB 09.02.19 at 10:49 am

Well, Mr. Bertram, isn’t that part of the problem? Again, it seems to me that the egregious Dipper has a strong point here.

It seems to me that the Timber community would dearly like Her Auspicious Majesty to do a Whitlam on Johnson, thus providing Brexiteers with more ammunition for conspiracy theories. I think relying on the tyranny of the monarchical prerogative is not a sensible pursuit of democracy, and wouldn’t be even if the issue were merely the purity of the Great British Sausage.

12

Tim Worstall 09.02.19 at 10:59 am

It’s the FTPA.

As said above. Losing a vote of confidence used to mean the ability – or necessity even – to call an election. Now it doesn’t. There’s that 14 day period in which alternatives within the current house must be sought. Or, 2/3 (I think) of the house must vote for dissolution and an election.

If neither happens – no alternative can be found in the 14 days, one that commands a plurality (note, not a majority, a minority administration could be formed) and also there’s not that super majority vote for an election, then at the end of the 14 days the outgoing PM can call an election.

There’s nothing odd about BoJo remaining PM until the end of the 14 days. Actually, this is standard. The outgoing PM remains PM until the new one is found and ready to take office. Happens every handover in fact.

We also have a minimum election period.

“The question that occurs to me is whether Johnson could also ignore a vote in favour of a new PM,”

No.

There’s no doubt that the current activities are being more than a little cute. But they are exactly within the law as under the FTPA.

13

J-D 09.02.19 at 11:43 am

Dipper

The House of Lords is meant to consider and send back bills that are outside the manifesto or contradict the manifesto.

Citation needed.

This Parliament is clearly looking to break the various promises they gave at various times.

Citation needed.

Doug

Parliament is sovereign, not the PM; if a majority of Parliament wants to sit, then sit it shall.

Citation needed.

Tim Worstall

If neither happens – no alternative can be found in the 14 days, one that commands a plurality (note, not a majority, a minority administration could be formed)

The result of a vote on a motion of confidence (like the vote on any other motion, at any meeting) depends on the count of votes in favour and the count of votes against, and when only two numbers are being tallied, a plurality is a majority and a majority is a plurality: there’s no distinction (but it’s usual in such cases to refer to a majority rather than a plurality). It’s only when there are three or more options to be voted for and a separate tally for each that a distinction between plurality and majority is meaningful.

14

Dipper 09.02.19 at 12:30 pm

@ Collin Street

Dipper is a liar, Chris…From the other thread

You then quote an extract from my comment, but you missed a bit. What i wrote was

“My understanding of the UK parliamentary system is still work in progress so perhaps the many experts on here can correct me on the following: … The Executive then produces a programme of legislation which they announce in a Queen’s Speech.”

So, I wasn’t lying, I was simply stating my understanding which I said was work in progress and offered experts such as yourself the opportunity to correct me, which you did. Although if the matter is as straightforward as you say, why does the House of Commons Library publish this? Which states that the default rule is In the House of Commons “precedence” (i.e. priority) is given on every sitting day to business tabled by the Government. This default rule is set out in Standing Order No. 14(1) and then goes on to identify when the default rule doesn’t apply.

15

Hidari 09.02.19 at 1:12 pm

It’s amazing the conclusions that will, and will not, be drawn from our current imbroglio. As a recent piece by Will Hutton argued, the one cast iron certainty that our debacle has brought to the fore is the necessity of the abolition of the Royal Family (i.e. in terms of its political role) and the replacement of the Queen by an elected Head of State. (When BoJo went to the Palace with his outrageous demand to prorogue Parliament, because the Queen is allegedly ‘non-political’ she had no choice but to accede to this demand: an elected HoS might have refused).

Likewise, given the gridlock in Parliament, the necessity now for an elected second chamber (i.e. to replace the House of Lords) is now apparent to all, or at least, to all who have eyes to see.

But of course, despite the fact that these two points are obvious and irrefutable, they will not be ‘seen’ by the media/business/political elite, and, therefore, will not be acted on (indeed, its unlikely that anyone will even seriously propose the obvious solutions to the problems I have sketched out, and if anyone does, they will be ‘laughed out of court’, because reasons).

16

Chris W 09.02.19 at 2:17 pm

It smacks of desperation.

The only route to Remain was a Labour government – whatever the right’s propaganda says. For the top-down Official Remain campaign, Corbyn was a price too high. It’s leaders were the same characters blackballing Labour & Corbyn since his first leadership election.

We’re leaving the EU with no deal. This is a legit consequence of the Referendum result, no matter how ‘leading remainers’ go on about Arron Banks; the decay of the Tories (a corpse that gets more donations from the dead than the living, stuffed with swivel eyed no deal undo decimalisation gammon); and the last general election.

Like Austerity and Iraq, there’s no timely saviour from bad policy.

17

Fergus 09.02.19 at 2:45 pm

A quick point on Dipper at 5, who says: “The House of Lords is meant to consider and send back bills that are outside the manifesto or contradict the manifesto. They won’t in this case, because they are clearly pro-EU.”

This is not correct: the Salisbury Convention means that the Lords must not reject bills that are inside the manifesto, not that they must reject bills that are outside it. It doesn’t give any support to the idea that Parliament can’t do things that weren’t mentioned in manifestoes – which is obviously a silly claim anyway. Were MPs supposed to not react to, say, the 2008 crash, because any reactive policy couldn’t have been in a manifesto three years earlier?

18

Dipper 09.02.19 at 8:56 pm

@ Hidari “As a recent piece by Will Hutton argued” this is never a good start to a sentence … “the necessity of the abolition of the Royal Family” No. How is an elected head of state going to save you from the consequences of the 2016 vote? Much better to have someone who cannot get drawn into this. the necessity now for an elected second chamber (i.e. to replace the House of Lords) is now apparent to all, or at least, to all who have eyes to see… they will not be ‘seen’ by the media/business/political elite, and, therefore, will not be acted on no really a lot of us have seen this and think time is ripe for change.

But … if you elect a second chamber, does it have its own mandate? Are they just going to block everything they don’t agree with?

19

Cranky Observer 09.02.19 at 10:04 pm

= = = necessity of the abolition of the Royal Family (i.e. in terms of its political role) and the replacement of the Queen by an elected Head of State. (When BoJo went to the Palace with his outrageous demand to prorogue Parliament, because the Queen is allegedly ‘non-political’ she had no choice but to accede to this demand: an elected HoS might have refused). = = =

Would she/he though? I can’t think offhand of an elected Head of State in a Parliament/President system intervening in any direct way in the operation of the Government in recent times (1990 forward say). If you want a strong executive government you have to design one explicitly. But beware – it was from 1994-2016 that we in the Colonies were having the superiority of the Parliamentary system and the division between HOG/HOG over our (strong) Executive/Legislature with no separate HOS endlessly explained to us.

20

J-D 09.02.19 at 10:28 pm

Hidari

Likewise, given the gridlock in Parliament, the necessity now for an elected second chamber (i.e. to replace the House of Lords) is now apparent to all, or at least, to all who have eyes to see.

The idea that an elected second chamber reduces the problem of gridlock is hard to reconcile with the experience of jurisdictions which have elected second chambers, such as Italy and Australia (and also five of the six Australian States): not to mention the somewhat different case of the USA.

(I wouldn’t oppose Lords reform, but ‘It will get rid of parliamentary gridlock’ is not a strong argument in its favour.)

21

ph 09.03.19 at 12:55 am

@16 Agreed. Cannibalism starts to make sense in desperate circumstances. And times are increasingly desperate.

The best hope of avoiding Brexit may lie in the PM’s lack of scruple. After all, for the permanent ruling class, the desperation others face is their normal. Ms. May, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Blair, Mr. Obama, and even Ms. Clinton won’t be missing any meals after leaving office. There’s nothing dire about living in a palace while the rest of us shiver over our futures and those of our kids. They belong and we do not.

So, if the PM has the choice of being PM for five years, or struggling to lead Britain into the risky post-Brexit reality and perhaps fail, which road will the shifty one choose? Farage is openly suspicious of BJ’s actual intentions. Once BJ wins the election, as he will, he’s got five more years, at least, of can-kicking with some form of ‘negotiated’ Brexit with the EU which actually changes nothing – the preferred choice of the ruling class he serves.

22

Doug 09.03.19 at 7:02 am

For J-D @13:

https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/role/sovereignty/

Arcane and obscure source, I know.

23

Dipper 09.03.19 at 7:35 am

On a more general point, the case for Remain is now basically the case for Leave, but rolled beyond the effective Last Leave Date. The case for Living is ‘the EU controls every aspect of our political and legal life. We are no longer an independent state. We should leave and regain our independence.’ The Remain case was ‘you can leave if you want to, but the EU is a happy band of nations freely agreeing Free Trade agreements and whatnot.’ The Remain case now is ‘the EU controls every aspect of our economic and legal life, so it is actually impossible to leave.’

As with any traumatic event, the immediate response is, reasonably, to get though it in one piece. But after the event. People begin to consider what that event means for them as people and their lives going forward, about the nature of power relations that the incident has revealed. PTSD sets in. And so, when we get through this, when the constitutional issues die down and Parliament thinks ‘normality’ has been returned, then the consequences will start to hit.

I’ll just mention terrorism and war, because that is what Remain/EU have mentioned as reasons for their behaviour. Don’t think no-one noticed.

Oh you’re all going to go What? When? But you’ve all heard EU people and members say that the EU has ‘prevented war’ and the reason for the EU is to ‘avoid war’. Logically, that is equivalent to publicly announcing that if you want the EU to consider you seriously, you have to threaten it with war. Not wise.

24

Tim Worstall 09.03.19 at 9:30 am

@13

“It’s only when there are three or more options to be voted for and a separate tally for each that a distinction between plurality and majority is meaningful.”

Apologies if I wasn’t clear. That part wasn’t referring to the vote of confidence. Rather, to an alternative administration created out of the current House.

After all, the current one doesn’t have a majority either – not if we add back in the SF seats it doesn’t.

25

John Quiggin 09.03.19 at 11:08 am

Hidari is right. For a Parliamentary system to work well, the Head of State has to have a legitimate capacity to resolve constitutional crises. The GG in the Australian case didn’t have it, and his actions created hatred and contempt that lasted to his death and beyond. If the GG had been elected, either directly or by Parliament, the judgement would have been accepted whichever way it went.

@19 The Italian President (elected by both Houses of Parliament) just played a major role in resolving the crisis there.

26

Barry 09.03.19 at 11:55 am

Dipper 09.03.19 at 7:35 am

” On a more general point, the case for Remain is now basically the case for Leave, but rolled beyond the effective Last Leave Date. The case for Living is ‘the EU controls every aspect of our political and legal life. We are no longer an independent state. We should leave and regain our independence.’ The Remain case was ‘you can leave if you want to, but the EU is a happy band of nations freely agreeing Free Trade agreements and whatnot.’ The Remain case now is ‘the EU controls every aspect of our economic and legal life, so it is actually impossible to leave.’”

Dipper, there’s not an honest word in your entire paragraph:

1) The case for Leaving was sunlight uplands, easiest trade deal ever, we’ll have the EU begging for a deal, and so on ad bullsh*teum.

2) The case for Remaining is that the people of the UK are far, far better off inside the EU than outside. The Brexiters have spent the last 3 years making that case – right now they are basically saying that it won’t be any worse than WWII.

27

Barry 09.03.19 at 11:59 am

ps: “The best hope of avoiding Brexit may lie in the PM’s lack of scruple. After all, for the permanent ruling class, the desperation others face is their normal. Ms. May, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Blair, Mr. Obama, and even Ms. Clinton won’t be missing any meals after leaving office. There’s nothing dire about living in a palace while the rest of us shiver over our futures and those of our kids. They belong and we do not.”

In the USA, this is called ‘only Nixon could go to China’. This was true, because only Nixon could make a deal with China without being called a commie traitor by – Nixon.
People who poison the well should not be giving credit.

As to the ‘permanent ruling class’, that’s BoJo and the Tories in three words. Boris spent his entire career f*cking up everything that he could, and rising as a result. The rest of the Tories have spent decades austeritizing the UK, and then whipping up hatred in the hearts of those whom they had hurt.

The Tory-desired No Deal is also clearly a case of ‘we’ll be OK; sod the people’.

28

Cian 09.03.19 at 12:22 pm

@dipper: The Remain case now is ‘the EU controls every aspect of our economic and legal life, so it is actually impossible to leave.’

It is not impossible to leave. It’s impossible for the UK to leave on the terms that the Tories want to leave on, but that’s not because of the EU, but because of certain realities with regards to trade and the Good Friday Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement requires that there be no border between Eire and N. Ireland. For there to be no border, there must be harmonization on regulations and tarifs that are acceptable to the EU as a trade body. You don’t like that – tough. The UK is the one revising the trade agreement and the smaller party – this is the reality of trade deals when you’re the smaller party.

The UK has the following options available to it:
1. Accept EU regulation/trade deals (the Norway option)
2. The backstop (the border is at the Irish sea)
3. Kick N. Ireland out of the union.
4. Accept a border on the N. Ireland/Eire border, with all the consequences for the N. Irish economy and peace treaty that this entails.
5. Cancel Brexit

Options 2 and 3 are unacceptable to the DUP. Option 4 will cause massive damage to the N. Irish economy, and will probably result in reunification (the irony of the DUP being a proximate cause or Irish reunification is quite amusing).

As for trade – the problem here is simply that the UK is ripping up an existing trade deal, that allows for borderless customs free trade. The same would be true if the UK was outside the EU, but had the same trading arrangements as today. Leaving the EU as a body is fairly simple. Leaving the web of trade agreements that the EU enables is extremely hard. Not because the EU is evil, or bureacratic, but because all trade agreements are complex and hard to unpick.

29

J-D 09.03.19 at 1:06 pm

Doug

For J-D @13:

https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/role/sovereignty/

Arcane and obscure source, I know.

What you wrote earlier was this:

Parliament is sovereign, not the PM; if a majority of Parliament wants to sit, then sit it shall.

The source you cite now states that Parliament is sovereign: it explains what it means by saying Parliament is sovereign, and it is not part of what is meant by ‘Parliament is sovereign’ that ‘if a majority of Parliament wants to sit, then sit it shall.’

Tim Worstall

The Commons makes decisions (including decisions to express confidence and decisions to express want of confidence) by majority of votes cast. ‘Majority of votes cast’ and ‘majority of members’ are both majorities, they’re just majorities of different things: the difference between them is not correctly expressed by saying that one of them (but not the other) is a plurality rather than a majority.

John Quiggin

For a Parliamentary system to work well, the Head of State has to have a legitimate capacity to resolve constitutional crises.

It’s better if the system is designed so that there aren’t constitutional crises.

The Italian President (elected by both Houses of Parliament) just played a major role in resolving the crisis there.

There wasn’t a constitutional crisis.

30

nastywoman 09.03.19 at 1:13 pm

@23
”I’ll just mention terrorism and war, because that is what Remain/EU have mentioned as reasons for their behaviour. Don’t think no-one noticed”.

– and so I duckduckgo-ed

”mentioning of war -Brexit”

and all these really crazy results came up – from so called ”Brexiters” like –
then Brexit secretary that if “our civil service can cope with world war II it can easily cope with this –
or that a dude called Adonis tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn should be “more Attlee please” and the craziest of all -(like always) Clown BoJo with his
”the EU were trying to create a superstate like Hitler had”.
AND can you believe this? –

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods,”

– while the EU now tried out PEACE for over seventy years??!

31

Dipper 09.03.19 at 2:09 pm

@ JQ ” the Head of State has to have a legitimate capacity to resolve constitutional crises … The Italian President (elected by both Houses of Parliament) just played a major role in resolving the crisis there”

But if you have a clear set of rules, then the Head of state is just going to get gamed surely. Eg if a state has a rule that the HoS should block ‘unconstitutional bills’ and a bill that confiscates private property is unconstitutional, then a PM, lets call him Jeremy, comes along and says “I will solve the housing crisis by seizing empty property”, the HoS intervenes and stops it, and Jeremy says “I was going to solve this crisis, but I was stopped!”

Which is a long-winded way of saying that the thing about crises is they test rules to destruction.

Right-wing regimes eg Urban are doing something similar in Eastern Europe aren’t they? Playing to their nationalist supporters in the knowledge the EU will intervene?

32

Jexpat 09.03.19 at 4:25 pm

JD wrote:

The most recent occurrence of the dismissal of a Prime Minister by the monarch in UK history was in 1834.

Parliament also burned on 7 October of that year.

A month later, William IV dismissed Lord Melbourne’s Whig government and installed Wellington as caretaker until December 10, when Peel began his first term. All told, tthere were four prime ministers in 1834.

Turbelulent times those, with a variety of momentous and hot button issues at stake.

Not unlike today.

33

Hidari 09.03.19 at 4:57 pm

All those who are implicitly or explicitly extolling the virtues of the British constitution might take a second to reflect on why no other country has copied it (CF also the American system, which is also, essentially uncopied).

34

CJColucci 09.03.19 at 8:54 pm

Slightly off-topic, but related. About when in the history of Great Britain did the actual executive ability, policy knowledge, political judgment, and all the things we value in a head of government cease to matter in a monarch? Who was the last king or queen whose abilities — leaving aside the not unimportant ability to avoid public embarrassment — were affected the course of government?

35

J-D 09.03.19 at 11:12 pm

Dipper

Gaming the rules is a possibility with any set of rules. If the rules are less clear, that doesn’t make them harder to game, it makes them easier to game.

If people find themselves thwarted from their purposes by the rules as intepreted by some authority, then the less clear the rules are the more likely they are to blame an unfair interpretation by the authority. The clearer the rules are, the more likely acceptance of the authority’s interpretation, with the blame then being directed at the rules themselves and channelled into demands for the rules to be changed. (Rules do get changed, so why shouldn’t people be able to demand changes to them?)

‘The rules are too clear; we need them to be less clear’ is something that does not get said by people who enjoy games as a recreation.

36

HcCarey 09.04.19 at 12:28 am

Johnson seems to be sacking himself.

It was fascinating to watch, Bercow intoning OHRRR-DEHR! Johnson pointing and spluttering.

Corbyn was right–there isn’t a majority for a no deal brexit. Nothing in the referendum mentioned deal or no deal. The hard realities of the Irish border haven’t been magicked away.

Wouldn’t it be possible to “devolve” the govt. of NI to where it could more or less continue the existing border, but the men in bowlers could still parade and call themselves England? I guess not, since there is no govt of NI at the moment. Christ what a mess!

Did anybody of the leave side think about the border with Ireland at all three years ago?

37

faustusnotes 09.04.19 at 5:47 am

HcCarey asks “Did anybody of the leave side think about the border with Ireland at all three years ago?”

If you look up in this or one of hte other two Brexit threads you will see Tim Worstall conflating the liberation of Ireland from 500 years of English imperialism with Brexit, and the flight of the Irish from starving Ireland to America as equivalent to people doing things “not for economic reasons”. This tells you all you need to know about how much the British right thinks about Ireland: not at all. All of British politics has a blind spot where colonialism is concerned, but in particular the British right genuinely believe it was a good thing and the only reason it isn’t more popular is Marxist rabble-rousers stirring up the natives. This is explicit in some of Johnson’s writings and speeches. So of course he and his leave buddies didn’t think about the border with NI. Remember the dude who called the referendum face-fucked a dead pig so he could be accepted by the Bullingdon club. These people aren’t the sharpest knives in the cutlery draw and everything they learnt about the world with their dim, entitled brains was learnt in the schools at the heart of the British colonial project.

The idea that this crew of traitors and economic wreckers would think about anything beyond whatever glass-eyed dead pig has currently aroused their appetites is inconceivable. All they understand is their own entitlement. How could they be expected to think about how satisfying their own urges might affect colonial subjects!?

38

Dipper 09.04.19 at 5:49 am

@HcCarey “Did anybody of the leave side think about the border with Ireland at all three years ago?”

Why just the Leave side? Did Remain call a referendum, promise to implement the result, and think about the border? If they did and thought that would make leaving impossible, then what on earth were they doing calling the referendum? Personally I wasn’t a fan of the referendum because in effect the UK has just called its own bluff.

One person did think about the GFA at the time of the referendum debate, and that was Mark Durkan of the SDLP. You can read his comments here, and see the complete lack of follow through by anyone in Parliament.

You seem only to be thinking only one step ahead here. If the significance of the GFA means the UK cannot leave, then the UK is a nation who has no choice but to accept laws made by other nations, something the people have specifically rejected. That immediately makes the EU not a happy band of free democratic nations, but a band of nations ruling another nation without the consent of those people. That’s a whole new bag of sweets.

39

Dipper 09.04.19 at 6:09 am

@ HcCarey again Did anybody of the leave side think about the border with Ireland at all three years ago?

Parliament voted to trigger A50, which results in departure in 2 years without a deal unless you agree a deal, and rejected the deal.

The conservatives stood under the slogan ‘No Deal is better than a Bad Deal’

So blame is be spread around.

My view is that we can manage an open border on Ireland a lot easier than managing a country that has just had its biggest ever vote ripped up by its MPs.

40

Hidari 09.04.19 at 7:41 am

@36
Not that anyone cares what I think about anything, but a few months back, in the last ‘batch’ of Brexit related CT threads, I gave my prediction that No Deal would not happen, no how, no way. I stand by that prediction.

41

Dipper 09.04.19 at 8:17 am

@ Hidari “but a few months back, in the last ‘batch’ of Brexit related CT threads, I gave my prediction that No Deal would not happen, no how, no way. I stand by that prediction.”.

Congratulations. So what now? If no to No Deal, and No to a deal, and no to revoking, what does that leave? Another referendum? Would what the question? Do you choose 1. Not leaving without a deal? 2., Not leaving with a deal? 3. Not staying?

42

Tim Worstall 09.04.19 at 9:26 am

“The Good Friday Agreement requires that there be no border between Eire and N. Ireland. “

I keep being told this and I have actually read the GFA. Which doesn’t seem to contain any mention of a border at all. Could anyone point me to what I’ve missed in it?

As to absolutely no border at all that’s not even the case now. VAT laws change, km/miles change, tax laws change – personal and corporate – etc, etc.

43

nastywoman 09.04.19 at 10:47 am

@36
Not that anyone cares what I think about anything, but a few months back, in the last ‘batch’ of Brexit related CT threads, I gave my prediction that No Brexit would not happen.

– and that included ”the illusion of a Brexit” -(like only in name) – while at the same time – in reality – we Europeans – will be as ”tight together” – as any time before.

44

J-D 09.04.19 at 11:12 am

Hidari

Not that anyone cares what I think about anything, but a few months back, in the last ‘batch’ of Brexit related CT threads, I gave my prediction that No Deal would not happen, no how, no way. I stand by that prediction.

Is this the comment you’re referring to?
http://crookedtimber.org/2018/12/29/if-brexit-goes-ahead-say-goodbye-to-radical-redistribution/#comment-742604

45

Barry 09.04.19 at 11:35 am

Dipper 09.04.19 at 6:09 am

” The conservatives stood under the slogan ‘No Deal is better than a Bad Deal’”

And then defined every other deal as a ‘Bad Deal’.

” So blame is be spread around.”

The Tories (I include UKIP and the Brexit Party) has spent decades working for this, and then three years trashing every deal except No Deal. The blame solely accrues to them.

” My view is that we can manage an open border on Ireland a lot easier than managing a country that has just had its biggest ever vote ripped up by its MPs.”

Please note that the referendum was non-binding. This means that it’s not binding.

46

Barry 09.04.19 at 11:36 am

Hidari, the UK civil service coined a term ‘cliff edge No Deal’, meaning that the Tories would take things so close that they’d stumble over the edge.

47

ph 09.04.19 at 12:23 pm

@40 Actually, I read your comments with pleasure (and I’m not sure this piece of news will bring you any joy.) You’re skeptical for all the right reasons. The abdication in the 20th century signaled a royal rejection of government policy – that Wallace Simpson simply wouldn’t do. I fear we might see something similar, only reversed. Ordinarily, the royal family seems to serve a largely decorative and symbolic role, but from what I can see the old girl’s dogs and horses seem to have more sense than the current “leadership” and whatever one wants to call this herd of cats.

I can’t help but feel that the infantile follies and ineptitude of the nation’s “leaders” shrieking and impotently swearing at one another is a spectacularly effective advertisement for the authoritarian state. When we have to read: “Leave my children out of your politics” it doesn’t seem we have far lower to go.

I’m required to begin teaching a course on British culture again in a few weeks and I’m frankly ashamed to have to go before my students and have to offer some sort of explanation for this mess. I’m thinking our time might be better spent listening to Laura Nyro’s “Smile” album, and contemplating how effectively this remarkable artist combined her own talents – voice and piano, with koto, guitars, and jazz horns. Or, perhaps, “My love is like a red, red rose, ” a tune that always brings a smile and a reminder of what tax collector can do in her/or his spare time.

The current debacle is a disgrace and a fitting coda to centuries of feckless colonial exploitation. It seems just, in a sense, that Ireland, England’s first real colony, may help bring an end the arrogant follies of the English elite, who have done so little for the Scots, Welsh, Irish, and English, themselves.

I know plenty of British people who enjoy getting along and do so admirably. Perhaps the Queen can prorogue parliament for a year and negotiate Brexit herself. That’s what people voted for; and her majesty couldn’t do any worse than the current lot, most of whom can’t be trusted to order a pint and a pack of crisps.

48

Scott P. 09.04.19 at 1:01 pm

You seem only to be thinking only one step ahead here. If the significance of the GFA means the UK cannot leave, then the UK is a nation who has no choice but to accept laws made by other nations, something the people have specifically rejected.

So colonialism has come back to bite the colonizer in the ass, and all you can do is whine. But no, there are other options, reposted from above:

The UK has the following options available to it:
1. Accept EU regulation/trade deals (the Norway option)
2. The backstop (the border is at the Irish sea)
3. Kick N. Ireland out of the union.
4. Accept a border on the N. Ireland/Eire border, with all the consequences for the N. Irish economy and peace treaty that this entails.
5. Cancel Brexit

49

Jerry Vinokurov 09.04.19 at 2:51 pm

You seem only to be thinking only one step ahead here. If the significance of the GFA means the UK cannot leave, then the UK is a nation who has no choice but to accept laws made by other nations, something the people have specifically rejected. That immediately makes the EU not a happy band of free democratic nations, but a band of nations ruling another nation without the consent of those people. That’s a whole new bag of sweets.

The idea that anyone “specifically rejected” anything is entirely a figment of your fevered imagination. You threw a fit about a bunch of things that you had no understanding about under the convenient guise of “national sovereignty” (something you wouldn’t know from a hole in the ground anyway) and now that the outcome of your temper tantrum looks like it’s going to have all the negative consequences that the people who know anything about anything were telling you it would, you’re looking for some other scapegoat to take the blame. You’ll never, ever own up to the consequences of your choices because fundamentally your entire politics is not about anything other than a seething cultural resentment of foreigners and the young.

Frankly, my hot take from across the ocean is that even if what you write above were true, and it is not, it would be no less than the UK deserves.

50

Dipper 09.04.19 at 3:50 pm

@ HcCarey yet again “Did anybody of the leave side think about the border with Ireland at all three years ago?”

I am told repeatedly here and elsewhere that leaving the EU on any terms that actually have significance is against the GFA. When RoI and NI were given a referendum on this, was it made clear to them that if they voted for the GFA that would mean the UK effectively was unable to leave the EU? Why were citizens of RoI given the right to veto the UK’s ability to leave the EU but citizens of Great Britain weren’t? Did anyone anywhere in the island of Ireland say “hang on surely it is unconstitutional and undemocratic for us to vote on something that will significantly impinge on others when those others don’t have a vote?”

51

J-D 09.04.19 at 10:20 pm

CJColucci

Slightly off-topic, but related. About when in the history of Great Britain did the actual executive ability, policy knowledge, political judgment, and all the things we value in a head of government cease to matter in a monarch? Who was the last king or queen whose abilities — leaving aside the not unimportant ability to avoid public embarrassment — were affected the course of government?

It was an incremental process lasting centuries (arguably), or at least decades. Arguably, the last monarch to be called on for any exercise of individual discretion in a political matter was George V, in 1910–you can read about it (including how he felt put-upon) on his Wikipedia page.

52

faustusnotes 09.05.19 at 1:12 am

Dipper, the UK is welcome to leave the GFA, but to do so will have consequences. This is not “tyranny”, this is cause and effect. The GFA was made to satisfy British citizens, not just Irish citizens – it was passed to end the troubles which were primarily a problem in Northern Ireland amongst British citizens. I know sometimes it’s hard for you Brexiters to understand that there are British people outside the Home Counties but do try. As a result if the UK leaves the GFA it will be a) breaking an international agreement and b) pissing off a lot of British citizens. Deciding not to do this is not caving in to tyranny, and it’s not a sign that the UK is a vassal state. It’s simply a decision not to face certain consequences of certain actions.

The reason you’re in this mess is that your Tory overlords didn’t think about Ireland when they set up the referendum and haven’t bothered to think about it since. BoJo has been repeatedly asked to explain what he will do about this and he has no answer, because the only answer is “suck up the consequences”. And if it weren’t abundantly clear already, this week has really served to show that Tories and Brexiters cannot deal with being forced to face the consequences of their actions.

You also cannot say the GFA is the tyranny of other nations. It is a deal the UK govt negotiated with Ireland to stop the violent insurrection happening in the UK by UK citizens. It avoided messier solutions that had been shown not to be working. Subsequent parliaments have been bound by it. THis is not tyranny, but the simple working of parliamentary democracy. Or do you think that when Corbyn becomes PM he should be able to simply ignore every deal made by any Tory PM over the past 10 years because “tyranny”?

You and yours need to grow up and face the consequences of your actions. If the troubles restart in Ireland it will not be Europe’s fault but yours. If you think it’s a price worth paying for your Brexit then say so. But don’t whine that the EU is forcing anything on you!

53

Dale Self 09.05.19 at 7:17 pm

Those who are claiming we need to just accept the referendum result need to own the fact that Cameron put it forth with the sole purpose of silencing critics on his right. Tories and their sympathizers have not taken responsibility for the poorly constructed referendum, they’ve simply tried to take advantage of the chaos created at every juncture. Well, that game is up, get your shinpads on!

54

Orange Watch 09.05.19 at 9:54 pm

Dipper@50:

When RoI and NI were given a referendum on this, was it made clear to them that if they voted for the GFA that would mean the UK effectively was unable to leave the EU?

As others have repeatedly pointed intoned, and as you have repeatedly pointedly ignored, the UK can leave the EU w/o violating the GFA. That’s quite possible legally. What it does not appear to be is possible politically. DUP certainly won’t support a hard sea border between NI and the rest of the UK, but if you want out of the customs union w/o going back on the intent specified in the GFA and with NI in the UK, that’s what you need to do. Yes, it’s possible legally for the UK to negotiate a deal where Eire is excluded from the customs union while remaining in the EU (which seems to be the only fantasy that would satisfy both the Tories and the DUP, except of course their somewhat bolder fantasies about annexing the remainder of the island), but that’s not even vaguely possible politically. Not least because the UK is the far weaker state, and entirely lacks the leverage to compel the EU to “significantly impinge on others” for the benefit of the DUP’s and Tories’ domestic political prospects.

The simple fact is that the Leave camp made promises they cannot keep in order to gain broad enough support to win the referendum. If the last several years have made anything clear, it’s that if referendum had been clearer, it likely would not have passed. You support crash-out but many of your fellow 17m Yes voters you frequently waggle about did not. Crashing out will ignore the desires of some significant portion of that 17m in addition to all of the 16m No voters. And that’s the problem. Vague questions mean the involved actors could (and did) promise different (and contradictory) things on the Leave side, and now any way forward will run counter to the desires of some portion of the Yes voters. Trying to square that circle is unquestionably more democratic than dictating by fiat that your preferred interpretation must be adopted. You may not be happy about the delay, but there’s absolutely nothing in the referendum by which you can oppose it; the gloriously vague (and again, non-binding – and even if it had been, only binding on THAT Parliament) referendum made no mention whatsoever of a timeline. Ambiguity cuts both ways. Brexit tomorrow or Brexit in 2119 would both satisfy a Yes vote.

55

J-D 09.05.19 at 11:06 pm

Imagine, for a moment, the people who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement; imagine them as they near the end of negotiations; and then, if you will, imagine somebody stepping out of a TARDIS and asking them ‘This agreement of yours, have you considered how it will be affected if the UK leaves the EU?’

I imagine them saying, ‘No, why would we consider that?’ Then I imagine them recognising they’re in the presence of a time traveller (because they know what the TARDIS looks like) and saying, ‘What, is the UK going to leave the EU?’

‘I don’t know’, says the time traveller (who has set out from a date when the outcome was still uncertain), ‘I’m just asking you about an “IF”.’

‘Oh’, they say (or so I imagine), ‘well, the answer to your question is “No”, because we haven’t considered that. Now that you mention it, it seems that we have assumed continuing UK membership of the EU, and continuing Irish membership as well, without really thinking about it. And now that you mention it, it’s not too clear that the agreement would still work if the UK left the EU.’

Are they to be blamed?

56

Faustusnotes 09.06.19 at 11:52 am

The answer to your question J-D is that the people who negotiated the GFA must be to blame because dipper and his mates are never responsible for anything!

57

Barry 09.06.19 at 12:12 pm

Seconding Orange Watch:

Dipper, you keep deliberately conflating bad outcomes with lack of freedom, in a way which is particular to the right, IMHO.

The UK can do all sorts of things, but there are consequences, which your faction has quite deliberately lied about. That’s the whole reason for the stalemate in Parliament – the majority realizes that No Deal will be a catastrophe, but a significant majority wants the catatstrophe.

58

Cian 09.06.19 at 12:15 pm

ph:

The part of the UK that does not get enough criticism is the media. I would put the blame for Brexit largely on the shoulders of the Tory party and the media. Some of the media are directly responsible, having for years run insane propaganda about the EU. A lot of people’s misconceptions about the EU come directly from media lies (the Sun, Express, Mail, Telegraph and the Times). The rest of the media has done a terrible job of covering Brexit (I’m including the Guardian and the BBC here). Their understanding of how Europe works has been non-existant – they would uncritically print claims by Theresa May for example that a moments reflection should have told them were impossible. Their understanding of parliamentary procedure has also been non-existant – for example parliamentary lobby correspondants would ask why Corbyn wasn’t doing something that again was clearly impossible for the leader of the opposition to achieve. Finally there’s been a prevailing bias in all the media against Corbyn. Some of that is unsurprising – Tory press are going to Tory. Others should have been surprising (the BBCs slow deteriation into a mouthpiece for the government). Others is just plain annoying (the Guardian shilling for any Labour MP who opposed Corbyn, no matter how delusional and stupid).

On the latter you can see evidence for it fairly easily if you look. For example, look at how many politicians have been bigged up by the UK media as really smart, who turned out to be completely useless. Change UK – who turned out to be completely useless. Various right wingers in the Labour party. Various Tories who had integrity apparently (when even a cursory glance at their record would have told a different story). The simply ludicrous tonguing they gave ex-etonian Rory Stewart. Or how the Guardian seems to think any northern MP who disagrees with Corbyn is working class – even when their parents were upper middle class and they attended private schools.

In contrast Corbyn and the people who surround him have been monstered for the most basic stuff. Corbyn is anti-woman because he doesn’t have any women in his inner circle (E.g. Dianne Abbot – a very smart black working class woman who attended Oxford – doesn’t count). Or where the media were incredulous because Corbyn said one of his favourite books was Ulysses (people like him aren’t supposed to read). The snobbery and classism on display at the BBC and Guardian has been quite astonishing frankly. The way the media ignore John McConnell a genuinely very funny and smart man. Or that Corbyn, rather unusually for a politician, does have a common touch. He can talk to ordinary people and it isn’t weird. My point isn’t that these people are beyond reproach, but rather they’ve been operating in a media environment that ignores their strengths, and manufactures weaknesses.

So anyway – this is a very roundabout way of saying that what you think about what’s been going on in the UK is filtered through this media lens that distorts everything you’re seeing. Similar in some ways to what we’ve seen with Bernie Sanders in the US.

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Suzanne 09.06.19 at 6:16 pm

For what it’s worth, Johnson is certainly providing Corbyn with what Saul Bellow called a contrast-gainer, to an extent not achieved even by Theresa May at her most robotic. Corbyn is looking very nearly statesmanlike. It’s a long way from the days when Cameron used to toy with him like a cat with a half-dead mouse.

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