Boris Johnson's attempt to subvert democracy has failed, and he should resign

The Prime Minister describes Britain's institutions as "enemies of the people", while pursuing a strategy that would leave the people impoverished, divided and ridiculed.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court could not have been clearer: Boris Johnson lied about his reasons for proroguing parliament at the height of the Brexit crisis. The implication is that he misled the public, the courts, MPs, and the Queen when he said he wanted to shut parliament down for five weeks to prepare for a new Queen’s Speech.

In a unanimous verdict, the highest court in the land voiced what the proverbial dog in the street knew. The Prime Minister suspended parliament in a blatant attempt to silence an institution in which he had lost six Brexit-related votes in six days. He shut it down to prevent MPs from scrutinising his government’s pursuit of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the European Union on 31 October.

The 11 judges rejected the government’s case on every ground, and they did not mince their words. "It is impossible for us to conclude on the evidence... that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament for five weeks," they declared.

“The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue 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...The effect on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme."

It is hard to imagine a more damning indictment of a prime minister, let alone one who purports to support Brexit in order to restore parliament’s sovereignty and escape the clutches of an “undemocratic” EU. Johnson has been caught red-handed in an attempt to subvert British democracy, and if he had an ounce of shame he would resign.

He will not, of course, because he has no shame.

The immediate consequence of the ruling is to restore parliament’s say over the date and nature of Britain’s departure from the EU. That means it will be far harder for Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, and it will ramp up the pressure on the government to agree a withdrawal deal with the EU – although the chances of a newly emboldened parliament approving any such deal may at the same time have been diminished.

Beyond that, Johnson, egged on by his sinister Svengali, Dominic Cummings, will doubtless embrace Trumpian demagoguery with still greater fervour.

No matter that the Conservatives like to think of themselves as the party of law and order, and the party of the establishment. No matter that the Brexiteers only narrowly won the 2016 EU referendum, and that in the three and a half years since, a Conservative government has been unable to negotiate a palatable withdrawal deal. No matter that the government argued that prorogation had nothing to do with Brexit. Johnson and his sycophantic supporters at the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Express will nonetheless accuse parliament and the Supreme Court of being “enemies of the people” seeking to thwart the popular will.

They will seek to whip up anger against the "metropolitan elite" and those institutions that they profess to hold dear, ahead of a seemingly inevitable general election in October or November.

Johnson signalled as much in his first public reaction to the Supreme Court ruling yesterday. “I strongly disagree [with the verdict],” he said. “There are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit, a lot of people who want to stop Britain coming out of the EU,” he added.

That would, of course, be another grotesque distortion of the truth from the congenital liar now resident in Downing Street.

Parliament is not the enemy of the people. Its members are elected by the people, and they are defending the people from a form of Brexit that bears no relation to the quick, painless, have-your-cake-and-eat-it Brexit that Johnson and his fellow Leavers promised in the 2016 referendum.

The Supreme Court justices are not the enemies of the people. They are protecting the rights of parliament in the face of a shocking abuse of power by the executive.

While Johnson and his right-wing zealots use the phrase "enemies of the people" to describe those who disagree with them, they knowingly pursue, for their own nefarious reasons, a form of Brexit that would cause massive damage to Britain’s economy, its global stature, its social cohesion and the Union. Few things could be more at odds with the interests of the people.

In late July, when Johnson had just won the Tory leadership contest, I wrote in the New Statesman: “The Conservative Party has imposed on this country, at a time of profound national crisis, a Prime Minister who is spectacularly unfit for the job, both morally and politically. It has installed in an office once held by the likes of Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee a liar, an adulterer and a pedlar of fantasies who is so utterly lacking in principle and integrity that he is willing to sacrifice the nation’s future on the altar of his own ambition.”

It gives me no pleasure to be proved right. 

Martin Fletcher is a New Statesman contributing writer and a former foreign editor of the Times