The next PM must come to Parliament and prove his mandate
At this moment of national crisis, Parliament and Government must not be set against one another. The new PM has a duty to bring MPs back into the fold, writes Chris Bryant
There’s one word you should never use in politics or history: ‘Inevitable’.
Nothing is truly inevitable. Amateur historians have a habit of deploying their extraordinary powers of hindsight to say that this war or that revolution was ‘inevitable’ and we all succumb to peer pressure when it comes to speculating about the future.
But if the last few years have taught us anything it is that the most unlikely events can come to pass.
So, it would be wise not to bet the house on any political outcome at the moment, however likely it may seem. Even the things that already seem virtually written in stone– like Mrs May’s departure on 24 July – may not actually happen.
Which brings me to the issue of whether a new prime minister will address the Commons before the summer recess. Of course he should, I hear you all cry. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that a new PM should appear before the Commons within days and given that we have already voted on a recess from 25 July to 3 September, that means on 25 July.
Theresa May appeared within days, as did Gordon Brown. So have nearly all their predecessors. The only occasions in the last 150 years when there has been a delay of more than a week was when the new PM had to kiss rings with the King who was holidaying in France, or when Alec Douglas Home had resigned his seat in the Lords but had not yet been elected to the Commons. Even the Marquess of Salisbury made sure he appeared in parliament the day after he was appointed.
I have no doubt that the new PM will want to do the same. My fear, though, is that he will be tempted to make do with a mere ten-minute statement. Yes, that will give MPs a chance to put questions to him, but a far better course would be for the new PM to table a voteable motion laying out his plans for the country and especially for Brexit.
He could then put a serious argument to the House – and, crucially, seek its support.
If, as seems likely, that includes a proposal for further discussions/negotiations with the European Union, the House’s support for the PM’s plans could only strengthen his arm.
This is precisely what Winston Churchill did, in the very heart of war, as troops were evacuating from Dunkirk, when he succeeded Neville Chamberlain in 1940. Just three days after arriving in Downing Street he addressed the Commons on the motion ‘that this House welcomes the formation of a Government representing the united and inflexible resolve of the nation to prosecute the war with Germany to a victorious conclusion.’ True, he could rely on a massive majority, having bound all the parties into the government, and the motion was carried by 381 votes to nil, but he knew that he had to prove his new mandate.
The new PM will have no such luxury this summer. Even including the DUP, he will barely have a nominal majority of three, which makes a motion a brave move.
But boldness is precisely what the nation needs at this moment of crisis. The new PM should knit parliament back into the fold, not try to ignore it or circumvent it. He should show the European Union that he has a mandate in parliament. He should seek as wide a consensus as possible in the House and reinforce the bond between Government and Parliament rather than set one against the other.
Yes, it’s a bold strategy, but as Churchill might have said, meekness never wins a prize. And anyway, if the PM doesn’t table a voteable motion the Opposition will probably table a motion of no-confidence, which by convention will have to be taken that day. Far better to seize the day than be forced into a corner.
Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda
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