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Sat, 11 July 2020

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Andrew Adonis: Boris Johnson is playing a game of chicken with democracy – but Parliament will not blink

Andrew Adonis: Boris Johnson is playing a game of chicken with democracy – but Parliament will not blink
3 min read

The Prime Minister will leave no route to staying in power untested. However, any attempts to force a no-deal Brexit by proroguing Parliament will fail, writes Lord Adonis


A kind of coup is taking place.

Boris Johnson’s decision to ask the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks leading up to a Queen’s Speech on the 14th October is a naked bid to close down Parliament at a time of national crisis.

To prorogue Parliament for so long without an immediate election is the most controversial royal act since William IV dismissed Lord Melbourne in 1834.

Churchill never did anything like this, even in the depths of war.

But it is important to recognize this for what it is: an act of desperation, not a clever masterplan.

Johnson has always relied on his appeal to the public, and ability to reach over the heads of parties and Parliament. But not this time.

Johnson knows that he doesn’t have the people behind him and his Brexit plan, and he is playing a game of chicken with parliamentary democracy. It is an extreme dereliction of his duty that he is dragging the Queen into this assertion of executive power over Parliament. However, it is maybe unsurprising that the man who wanted to be “world-king” since he was a boy sees no rules he cannot break.

Stay calm during this game of chicken. Unless I misjudge my colleagues, Parliament is not going to blink. Indeed, it is because Johnson himself realised this that he is now desperately trying to curb Parliament by trashing our constitution.

It won’t work.

The coalition against no-deal in Parliament has the numbers and the time to pass legislation ruling it out next week. Johnson will no doubt try and use further arcane tricks to stymie this, but as long as Parliament is sitting, this too will fail for one simple reason: John Bercow.

The current Speaker of the House upholds the principle of parliamentary democracy as much as Johnson and Dominic Cummings disdain it.

Theresa May learnt this lesson the hard way when she tried to side-line Parliament, and Johnson is following in her footsteps. Like her, he has no feasible plan on Brexit, no majority in Parliament, and risks political devastation if he goes for a general election.

The great difference between them is the scale of Johnson’s ambition and lack of basic political decency. He will leave no route to staying in power untested, no matter how extreme.

Johnson is acting this way because, so far, he has always gotten away with bold outrageous moves, personal and political. He thinks he is Houdini.

But of course, Houdini tried it once too often.

Lord Adonis is a Labour peer.

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