Opinion: Parliament must not just reconvene, it needs to grow up, too | Opinion | DW | 24.09.2019
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Opinion: Parliament must not just reconvene, it needs to grow up, too

The UK's Supreme Court ruling puts immense pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But MPs should also be feeling the heat, Mark Hallam argues. It's long past time that they focus on practical, pragmatic solutions.

The ruling is in: Britain's Parliament can and must reconvene. Most likely as soon as Wednesday. Some members of Parliament (MPs) were racing into the chamber within minutes of the Supreme Court verdict — even comparatively senior members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives, including Tom Tugendhat.

Tuesday's verdict is a damning decision, and a constitutionally significant one for the United Kingdom.

Mark Hallam

DW's Mark Hallam

First, the court's ruling that the prorogation of Parliament is not a purely political process, and is subject to legal oversight or challenge, has reined in this government and future governments' power. 

Secondly, the ruling has effectively accused Johnson of overstepping his bounds and seeking to halt parliamentary business for too long with too little legal basis.

It's an unprecedented verdict against a prime minister and in ordinary times, the likely fallout would be severe. However, for fear of stating the obvious, Britain isn't living in ordinary times. 

2 months of majestic malfeasance

There's a triumphant tone on the side of those opposing Johnson in the aftermath of the verdict, which shouldn't come as any surprise. The new prime minister, in office now for precisely two months, has already put together a Malpractice Greatest Hits album crammed so full of classics that it might have taken a lesser band decades to compose. His list of achievements to date include, but are not limited to: 

  • Losing his majority live on television in his first major day in the Commons as prime minister. 
  • Losing his first five votes as prime minister in the Commons.
  • Overseeing the resignation of his own brother, Jo Johnson, from his Cabinet.
  • Firing a chunk of loyal party grandees, including his hero Winston Churchill's grandson, Nicholas Soames, and the longest-serving MP in Britain, Ken Clarke.
  • Whittling his majority down from 1, to minus 42.
  • Trying, and failing, to convince the opposition to help him call an election.
  • Proroguing Parliament without a solid legal basis for doing so.
  • Repeatedly pledging to deliver Brexit, "do or die," by October 31. He has 37 days left.
    Cartoon showing a whistling Boris Johnson holding a giant key and walking away from the House of Commons, wrapped in a giant padlock. The sign pointing in the direction of his travel reads Brexit.

    Now Johnson will have to hand the keys back by court order

Read moreOpinion: Boris Johnson's clowning glory

The chorus of calls demanding that Johnson step down in light of this ruling is understandable. However, they carry rather more weight coming from some quarters than others. When party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Labour's ongoing party conference, moments after the verdict, that Johnson should "consider his position," a veritable elephant hovered at his shoulder. This, after all, is the same leader of the opposition who instructed his parliamentarians to resist the government's bid to trigger early elections around two weeks ago. So Corbyn argues that Johnson must go — but by the back door, not the front. 

Time for Parliament to focus

After the latest of a series of victories for British MPs against the British government, it's time for those MPs to show they can do more than just "take back control."

Words like deadlock, stalemate and a mess barely even begin to describe the quagmire the British establishment currently finds itself in. It's been 1,187 days since Britain voted to leave the European Union. That event is currently scheduled to take place on October 31. This is the third such deadline, and if anything, Tuesday's ruling would seem to decrease the likelihood that it will be met. 

We know that Parliament won't tolerate a no-deal exit. We know Johnson's government won't tolerate remaining, and says it won't accept a deal akin to former Prime Minister Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement without changes. We know no group in Parliament has a majority for their preferred option, and that to date, too few MPs have been willing to vote for what they would tolerate, not what they would like. We know the government can no longer govern. And we know the opposition is blocking an election, for the time being.

Großbritannien Brighton | Parteitag Labour Party | Jeremy Corbyn, Vorsitzender (Reuters/P. Nicholls)

Corbyn called on Johnson to consider quitting, but is himself opposed to an election

Finally and most crucially, we know that public opinion remains bitterly divided — but with one sentiment truly in the ascendancy. This sentiment is not in favor of the WTO terms, clean break from the EU that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage so adores. Nor is it the abject apology to Europe and the unilateral decision to remain in the EU favored by the Liberal Democrats. The public sentiment that's really picking up volume on Brexit, exactly three years and three months after the referendum result, is: "Get on with it!"

That is what parliamentarians now need to do. They barely have a month either to find a sensible, compromise proposal on Brexit that the House of Commons can support, or to lay the foundations to take the question back to the people. But this time pitting an actual Brexit plan, whether that's leaving with a deal or none, against the option to remain.

Maybe they will need a little more than 37 days to get there. What matters is that they start now.

Watch video 00:28

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