Parliament may have been told to clear off for five weeks, but some of its final actions before the dismissal of the Commons will be continue to embarrass the government – and worse.
Using an arcane but powerful bit of parliamentary machinery called a “humble address”, MPs request the Queen to tell her ministers to do certain things. It was used successfully last year to discover the full legal advice on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and later to have the Treasury's economic forecasts published openly.
This time, thanks to Dominic Grieve, it’s a double whammy.
First, named individuals must release everything from Post-it notes to WhatsApp messages about the constitutional outrage of shutting down parliament: rule without democratic accountability. Second, the true horror of the no deal planing assessments – Operation Yellowhammer – must be published in full. Then we can judge if Michael Gove was right to call it a “worst case” scenario or whether it is, in fact, a realistic “base case”. As we hacks say, they will have to cough.
Thus, we may also soon find out the truth about the advice that the prime minister and his ministers gave to the Queen about this very prorogation of Parliament. In short, the documents would show if Boris Johnson was lying to his sovereign as well as the Commons and the British people about why we have had this unusually long suspension of Parliament – something the Speaker, John Bercow, spoke out about in unprecedented terms as unacceptable rule by executive fiat.
Was the prorogation a genuine matter of readying a new Queen's Speech and lots of exciting new legislation that frankly couldn’t wait a couple more weeks? Or was it a ruse to prevent Parliament from doing its job – that is, prorogation for another nefarious Brexit-driven purpose?
Did the prime minister fib? Did he abuse the independence of the civil service? Did he mislead us? What does achieving Brexit “by all means necessary” as the spin goes actually mean? What has Dominic Cummings been up to?
In the various legal actions taken by Gina Miller and others to gain a judicial review of the suspension the most disturbing aspect was the refusal by civil servants to swear signed affidavits about their advice and behaviour for the legal hearings on Edinburgh, Belfast and London. That resistance was unusual, and highly suggestive of something deeply rotten going on.
MPs and the public have a right to know the truth. The Supreme Court surely does too.
In response ministers are muttering about private company emails out if their range, GDPR, human rights, privacy and the public interest, but the Humble Address is a clear instruction, and they are not allowed excuses and evasions.
Ministers work for us; we need to know about prorogation and Yellowhammer, and the truth will out.
Parliament is awakening. It is a little like the Watergate affair in the US; when Congress, long ignored by an “imperial” presidency, at long last stirred itself to demand disclosure of tapes and documents and take evidence and dig and dig again into the scandal, it found itself with the public behind it and with the constitution on its side.
Now it is our MPs who are finding their voice and holding our rulers to account. It's about time.
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