Suspending Parliament sounds terrible, right? The sort of thing that only happens in banana republics and dictatorships?
Well no, not really. In a normal year, Britain’s Parliament is suspended for several days in the Autumn, while men in tights polish everything furiously before Her Majesty arrives to give the Queen’s Speech. It’s the norm, not the exception.
So why all the fuss? What’s different this year, that’s given everyone such a fit of the political vapours? The answer is that all the claims about people not respecting the constitution, or behaving undemocratically, are a smokescreen. The reality owes a lot more to raw power politics and party-political point-scoring than high constitutional theories or principles.
Let’s start with the length of the suspension. The number of extra days Parliament will be closed is only three or four, because Parliament is normally in recess during Party Conferences. In fact the extra is about the normal time Parliament is suspended for the run-up to a Queen’s Speech.
So the fuss isn’t really about the length of time Parliament will be closed. It’s because it’s being done by a suspension rather than a combined recess-and-suspension which is what would normally happen at this stage before a Queen’s Speech. This year, the difference matters because Parliament has to vote and approve a recess, but not an suspension. And the people who are most upset are the ones who want to abandon the Party Conference recess entirely, and keep Parliament sitting so they’ve got more time to pass laws which will stop a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. If it was being done through a recess, they’d have a chance to vote and stop it.
But either option – of a suspension or a combined recess-and-suspension – is perfectly constitutional. Both processes are within the rules. So let’s stop pretending the fuss is about high constitutional principles; it’s not. It’s about which option the people who want to stop Brexit think will give them the best chance of winning. It’s straightforward power-politics; nothing more and nothing less.
They’re entitled to their view, of course. We’re a free society, after all. But cloaking their argument in concern for democracy, rather than being straight about what they’re really trying to do, doesn’t seem very democratic at all.
Nor does pretending that they only want to stop a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, when what it really, inevitably leads to is no Brexit at all. Taking ‘No Deal’ off the table, even as an unwanted worst case contingency, fatally weakens our negotiating position with Brussels. It makes getting a Brexit deal much, much less likely, and no Brexit much, much more so. Pretending you only want one thing, without being straight with voters about where it really leads, isn’t very democratic either.
So all the fuss about the constitution or democracy is a smokescreen for the real argument about political advantage for people who want to stop Brexit. Ultimately, the real question is whether the democratic decision which was taken in the referendum is going to be delivered at all, or not. And if it isn’t, then that would be really, really undemocratic, wouldn’t it?