Britain’s constitutional crisis has been deepened considerably by today’s Supreme Court ruling that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament is unlawful and void. MPs will now return to parliament while the split in the ruling class widens into a canyon.
In a unanimous and completely unprecedented verdict, 11 judges of the Supreme Court ruled that:
“[A] decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive. In such a situation, the court will intervene if the effect is sufficiently serious to justify such an exceptional course.”
Considering the reasonableness of Johnson’s justification for his prorogation, the court concluded that “such an interruption in the process of responsible government might not matter in some circumstances. But the circumstances here were, as already explained, quite exceptional. A fundamental change was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October 2019.”
Accordingly, it held that Boris’ prorogation of parliament was unlawful, because “it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
Put into plain English, the judges have ruled the threat of a no-deal Brexit is so severe for British capitalism that any action by the government that hinders parliament’s attempts to stop it is unconstitutional.
State swerves to prevent no-deal Brexit
As Financial Times contributing editor and lawyer, David Allen Green points out: “This has been fashioned not from any direct precedent, as there is no direct precedent.” Lady Hale, giving the judgment, even described the decision as a “one-off”. But the highest court in the land does not make “one-off” decisions. It has quite literally invented a brand new constitutional principle simply to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
That the judiciary would take such a step is ample evidence of the crisis gripping the British establishment. That the court sought to rely on a case from 1611 only underlines the fact that we have entered into the deepest crisis in British society since the Civil War.
Having lost control of their traditional party – the Tories – and the former ‘second eleven’ – the Labour party – the British ruling class is having to resort to constitutional manoeuvres that run the risk of dragging the usually impartial and inscrutable judiciary directly into Britain’s political crisis.
With his own manoeuvre to ram through Brexit thwarted, Johnson will now have to consider his rapidly shrinking range of options, but liberal ecstasies over his apparent humiliation are far wide of the mark.
This verdict will do nothing but reinforce Johnson’s attempt to present himself as a ‘man of the people’, only trying to carry out the democratic decision of June 2016. He can only be defeated with a radical campaign that boldly pledges to transform society in the interests of the working class – through nationalisations, the complete reversal of austerity and the provision of guaranteed housing, health and education for all.
Further, it must always be remembered that the same weapons the Supreme Court uses against Johnson would also be turned against a Labour government if it were to threaten the fundamental interests of British capitalism. The court’s judgment made explicit reference to the principle laid down in Burmah Oil Co Ltd vs. Lord Advocate, that "the executive cannot exercise prerogative powers so as to deprive people of their property without the payment of compensation”.
For a general election now – bring down the government!
But as the saying goes, “when thieves fall out, honest men come by their own”. This historic crisis at the heart of Britain’s political regime can and must be used by the labour movement to change society. Already, calls are being made for Corbyn to table a motion of no confidence in the government as soon as Parliament reconvenes. This is absolutely right.
The lesson we should draw from this whole debacle is that the British establishment and state are falling apart and are thoroughly discredited. They are literally making it up as they go along. While the lesson coming from Labour Party conference is that our movement is stronger than it has been for decades.
Now is the time to bring down this crumbling government and force a general election to bring a Corbyn-led Labour government to power.
But there is something even deeper at stake. This crisis shows the need to completely transform our decrepit political system and its so-called constitution, abolish the monarchy and House of Lords, pay elected representatives a workers’ wage, and build a genuinely democratic society, made by and for working people – not wealthy landowners and capitalists.