Prorogation (1)

I have been asked for my views on the Prorogation of parliament, but the truth is that I have rather given up commenting on politics after Edward Chaney, a passionate pro-Brexiteer and, as he claims, a founder member of UKIP, pointed out, which I do not deny, that I am not especially well informed on politics and do not speak, and so therefore, cannot write with any particular authority on it. I am also conscious that I represent exactly the constituency of people that the Brexiteers detest: a London-based, middle-class professional who is pro-Europe as much for historical and cultural reasons as for its economic and political benefits, which are, and always have been, more disputed.

The truth is that I feel, as many others must do, a colossal sense of anxiety and disillusion. I have never previously experienced what feels like a putsch from a group of highly motivated, politically dedicated, well-organised and passionate believers in a cause I do not share. I am sure they regard themselves as well-intentioned, fighting for what they believe to be a just cause. I know some of them. But we have lived at least since the seventeenth century in a parliamentary democracy and I had understood that that was what the Brexiteers most wanted to preserve: the sovereignty of parliament. So, to suspend parliament and to think that this will help create a spirit of national unity behind a forced Brexit is, so far as I am concerned, deeply anti-democratic, probably, but not necessarily, fatally misguided. But I am not yet out on the streets protesting. Just worried.


12 thoughts on “Prorogation (1)

  1. Kate Woodhead says:

    Well I have signed the petition against the prorogation and have never taken to the streets in protest – but I am prepared to do so.

  2. Oliver Domeisen says:

    Dear Charles, I certainly hope that you will continue to comment on political events. I have always found your observations to be well informed and balanced, especially as they address Europe as a historical and cultural entity, which is quite rare in the media these days.
    Having been brought up in the direct democracy of Switzerland I know that democratic rights come with democratic duties: it is voters responsibility to keep well informed on topics brought before them, to take decisions in the best interest of the entire country, and to embrace compromise. This is based on the knowledge and experience that what benefits the many in the end best serves the individual. The prioritisation of the benefit (or short-term interest) of the individual at the cost of the many only leads to inequality and the deterioration of social cohesion – as we are witnessing it now. The duty of the executive (in Switzerland a group composed of all the major parties) is to inform the population about the pros and cons of a proposal based on all available facts, and then make a recommendation without being partisan or pushing party-political interests. Democracy is not fooling a majority into pushing your partisan agenda through – it is about empowering voters to become mature and responsible decision-makers. I am not saying that the Swiss system is perfect, but it seems closer to a functioning democracy than what is being propagated by the advocates of ‘taking back control’. We must do whatever we can to support our elected representatives in parliament. I have also signed the petition.
    Having been forced to gain ‘settled status’ after 27 years in the UK, and having been granted said status on the day Ms Patel took over the Home Office, instead of feeling proud to become closer associated with a country I love and have contributed to, I felt that my respect for the object of my affections was waning. But hope dies last and your column is that ray of sunshine that often brightens up a gloomy day. So please continue to speak your mind! Apologies for the lengthy ramble and best wishes, Oliver

    • Dear Oliver, Thank you for such a long and thoughtful comment. Of course, I’m aware that Swiss democracy involves referenda, often lots of them, and has done since the 1870s. Can you, also, explain to me how it is that Switzerland, not part of the EU, has lots of borders with Germany, France and Italy, but you cross the border without any control. Is it part of the customs union ? Or is it Schengen ? Charles

  3. Cultural reasons are completely right. Don’t apologise for them.

    What Johnson and Farage are attempting is, as Berkow says, an outrage that will greatly damage this country.

  4. edward chaney says:

    Caro Carlo
    Since you say you are not going to discuss it but then do and meanwhile take my name in vain, may i just clarify that ‘passionate’ is not the right word to describe my feelings about Brexiting but on the principle of the lesser of evils (being European enough to be conscious of the downside of what is happening in the rest of EU), it is obvious to me that we should and would indeed already have left were it not for you Remainians. I was, however, in 1992, indeed ‘passionate’ about not wanting ‘us’, ie that silly Mr Major, to sign the obviously disastrous Maastricht treaty (which Rees Mogg’s papa tried to sue him for). That was why i joined UKIP (for that one year), that and in order to prevent us from joining the Euro. UKIP, which was founded by my Liberal chum, the LSE historian and expert on Germany, Alan Sked, with Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum party, were largely responsible for saving us from the Euro (if not from the ERM), which would have led to common taxation, a euro-police force, a European army (to cause even more migrant-producing chaos in Syria and Libya) and, for all their denials, ongoing eastwards expansion of the EU through Albania, Ukraine to Turkey. In the wake of the Mediterranean migration disasters, the consequences of the ‘open borders’ ideology is now manifesting itself in the English channel. Parliamentary sovereignty is not the only form of sovereignty and Parliament (along with so many other supposedly ‘elite’ institutions), has shown itself to be increasingly unrepresentative of ‘the people’ (perhaps since being an MP became a profession in itself). If this government finally seems ‘well-organized’ it has certainly taken its time and given the likes of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve and the supposedly neutral Speaker of the House of Commons (not to mention the once soundly anti-EU Labour Party) ample opportunity to support a compromise. Responding to a democratic referendum, Parliament passed a law saying we would leave the EU earlier this year and i believe a civil war situation more likely if we now don’t than if we do. From the beginning it was obvious that the threat of a no-deal should have been used as a means of obtaining a half-way decent deal, the irony being that if Cameron had threatened it before the referendum, the real EU boss, ie the German chancellor, would probably have offered enough concessions for you to have won yr remain vote and none of this would have happened…

      • Oliver Domeisen says:

        Dear Charles, as a member of EFTA and participating in the Schengen agreement Switzerland benefits from free movement, hence no closed borders; trade is subject to numerous bilateral agreements. As a result approximately 17% of the Swiss population are now citizens from other European countries tries compared to the UK’s 7%. This has resulted in a healthy economy and an average wage (also for Europeans, including UK citizens) at approximately 200% of the UK’s average. Food for thought.

      • Dear Oliver, Yes, I guessed it would be food for thought, since I have been surprised that there has been so little discussion of where there are open borders – presumably also between Norway and Sweden – in discussions about the Irish border. Charles

  5. edward chaney says:

    i took so long to write the above that i didn’t see Oliver Domeison’s contribution, the obvious answer to which is that due to Switzerland’s more directly democratically system it has chosen not to be a (political) member of the EU, whilst enjoying some of the advantages of free trade (as we did before Maastricht)….

  6. Like Edward and Oliver, I hope you don’t stop commenting on political political issues. You are expressing exactly what so many feel at the moment – bewilderment and frustration. Can we stop saying that the British people have ‘decided’ we should leave? The referendum was split almost equally between Leave and Remain, with a very small majority for Leave. A wafer thin majority, as was the Scottish Referendum.

    That was after a campaign in which Boris Johnson and Michael Gove knowingly voiced some views that they knew to be false, on the ‘flood’ of Turkish immigrants, and on the amount of money that would be freed to invest in the NHS. I suspect that many of those who voted Leave were swayed by those arguments.

    The Referendum campaign was on the PRINCIPLE. We have now learned a great deal more on the DETAIL, and it is not unreasonable for Parliamentarians to say we should take a few days toreconsider. For the Prime Minister now to squeeze the number of days in which Parliament can consider events, although perfectly constitutional, is opportunistic and cynical.

  7. Ivan Gaskell says:

    Dear Charles,

    I sincerely hope you will continue to comment on political issues in the UK, not only because I find your remarks enlightening, but also because it seems to me that a fundamental characteristic of a healthy polity is that its citizens should be able to express themselves freely (and, one hopes, civilly).
    There’s a common misconception that in the UK parliament is sovereign. My understanding is that sovereignty rests with the crown in parliament. That’s very different from parliament being sovereign. It means that the government of the day–principally the prime minister–in effect exercises crown prerogative powers (by their very nature unchecked), including that of proroguing parliament. This is perfectly consistent with your unwritten constitution, however unwelcome it may be in practice in certain instances. This is a consequence of where sovereignty lies in the UK–and it’s not with parliament alone. This is a system we deliberately jettisoned in 1789 so that there should be no unchecked executive powers, though we have no reason whatsoever to be smug.


    • Dear Ivan, Well, this is a very good and salutary perspective from Massachusetts, which perhaps is why Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is more the constitutional expert than Johnson, has recommended this course of action and now regards any objection to it as ‘the candyfloss of outrage’, a wonderfully contemptuous attitude to the opposition. Charles

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