Philip Hammond is back: the former chancellor of the Exchequer has made his first intervention into politics since his exit from the cabinet, writing a piece in the Times saying that there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit and that the government’s Brexit approach is designed to cause a no-deal.
He’s also one of 21 Conservative MPs to write a letter to Downing Street criticising the government’s Brexit approach. Elsewhere, John Bercow has told an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe that Parliament will be able to block a no-deal Brexit if it wishes.
The two stories are a reminder of a basic fact that the government has been able to largely ignore over the summer as parliament is not sitting: their slim to non-existent ability to get their business through the House of Commons, and that the Speaker is willing to bend precedent to allow the legislature to exert itself against the executive. (That latter point has always been true, it’s just that a different group of MPs get annoyed about it now.)
The line that gets briefed out by Downing Street and its allies is that the Prime Minister could simply tell the Queen to refuse royal assent to bills. Frankly, that dog won’t hunt. Elizabeth II’s major – and stunningly successful – political project has been to maintain the popularity and acceptance of the monarchy at a time when constitutional monarchies around the world are having their prestige, perks and prominence radically scaled back. Any political plan based on the idea of getting the Queen to play an active role – whether in refusing royal assent or refusing Boris Johnson’s request to hold an election at a certain date – is doomed to failure.
There’s still an open question about whether or not MPs are willing to pass sufficiently radical and far-reaching legislation and to curb the executive’s power enough to prevent no deal. But that’s really the major question – not whether or not there is a Speaker willing to bend precedent to do so or a monarch willing to endanger her political project to help Downing Street out of a hole.