Some, controversially including the Prime Minister, have accused parliament of failing on Brexit. Last week’s Article 50 extension hands parliament responsibility for solving the crisis. Here, Meg Russell reflects on why parliamentary agreement has thus far been difficult, and what parliament now needs to do.
This week’s Brexit events have been fast moving. Following a series of House of Commons votes on 12–14 March, the Prime Minister travelled to Brussels to negotiate an extension to the Article 50 period. Beforehand she made an extraordinary – and widely criticised – statement to the nation, seeking to lay the blame for the UK’s Brexit impasse at parliament’s door. Following many hours of discussion, the EU27 offered a limited extension: to 22 May if parliament approves the existing Withdrawal Agreement, else to 12 April, before which the UK government should ‘indicate a way forward’ for the EU’s further consideration.
This gives parliament (and specifically the House of Commons) an urgent task of resolving matters, to avoid the UK ‘crashing out’ without a deal in just under three weeks. To date, parliament has been unable to resolve the Brexit dilemma. This post explores why, before turning to what should happen next.
How did we get here?
As explored in a previous post, various factors have combined to make parliament’s Brexit dilemma unique. The most important is the context provided by the June 2016 referendum. By voting for ‘Leave’, the British public issued an instruction to government and parliament, which went against the prior views of most MPs. Politicians pledged to honour the referendum result, but as pointed out by various key actors (including the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by a leading Brexiteer, and the Independent Commission on Referendums), the instruction was far from clear. As we now know, there are many different competing visions of Brexit from which MPs could choose. To complicate matters further, Theresa May’s snap general election of 2017 delivered a hung parliament and minority government, making it far more difficult than usual for parliamentary majorities to form.Continue reading →
The conventional political analysis of the “cat flap” between Home Secretary Theresa May and the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke is that by criticising a cabinet colleague in public Ken used up another of his nine lives and may be heading for the chop in next spring’s reshuffle. The political world likes to have it both ways: to encourage speaking openly but when anybody actually does, they get hammered for ill discipline.
Siding with Theresa and defending her conference speech flourish (I am not making this up), David Cameron rebuked Ken at least twice and has since promised to tighten up immigration rules.
Looked at differently however Ken was only doing his job as the defender of the judiciary in government, as he explained to his local paper the Nottingham Post.
“It’s not only the judges that all get furious when the Home Secretary
makes a parody of a court judgement, our commission who are helping us form our view on this (a British Bill of Human Rights) are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given,” said Mr Clarke.
“We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a
Government you express a collective policy of the Government, you don’t go
round telling everyone your personal opinion is different.”
As later reports made clear, the reference to Maya the cat was lighthearted (“the cat need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice” – always dangerous when judges try to get funny) and was part of a much fuller description of the stability of the immigrant appellant’s life in this country.
As for the prime minister, between pushing the popular cause of tighter immigration controls and defending (or at least not distorting) a judicial ruling, is there any contest? If Ken is sacked, what does it say about the coalition’s respect for judicial independence?
Assuming you wished to criticise the Justice Secretary’s approach to criminal justice, what would you do? If you’re The Sun, you dress him up as a Teletubby and put him in an internet game in which players are invited to throw hush puppies at him. The Constitution Unit is non-partisan and so expresses no view on the merits of said game, which you can find here: