Johnson is facing the consequences of misleading us and the Queen. The tide is turning against his Brexit coup

Sadly for Johnson and his allies it is as yet impossible for him to give the judges a couple of months off. He is like a naughty schoolboy finally facing up to the consequences of breaking the rules

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 11 September 2019 12:50
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SNP comment on Scotland's highest court ruling Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament unlawful

There is a problem with trying to run the country like you used to run the Oxford Union Society. It turns out that the sort of shenanigans you could get away with in student politics you can’t when it comes to arsing around with an advanced economy with long-standing constitutional safeguards and powerful independent institutions that act as checks and balances on your power. In particular, you shouldn't get away with lying to Elizabeth II about proroguing parliament.

You’d think clever people such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Cummings and the other denizens of the bunker would have known that, but it seems they don’t.

Six serious defeats out of six in the Commons was one result. Another is the breakthrough decision by the Scottish Court of Appeal to declare Johnson’s suspension of parliament unlawful. That is not good news for the “Get Ready for Brexit” project.

The case will go to the supreme court, along with the English version being brought by Gina Miller, John Major et al, and, however unlikely, members of the House of Commons may yet find themselves rapidly un-prorogued. (De-prorogued? Dis-prorogued?).

A decision will come quickly, possibly by the end of next week, and it is fair to note that most MPs do indeed want to get back to work. There are select committee meetings to hold, more laws to pass, ministers to question (including the prime minister) and all the other parliamentary functions of scrutiny and representation to pursue. They would have plenty to go on. Just wait till the prorogation papers and the Operation Yellowhammer stuff comes out. Things are never so bad they can’t get worse in politics: and they will – even without parliament sitting.

It does seem to be all going wrong for the Johnson plan. There is gossip that things are so bad he might actually have to genuinely go for a deal and abandon the Cummings no-deal, “talks are a sham” strategy. Hence, perhaps, his fruitless arguments with Arlene Foster and the DUP about leaving Northern Ireland behind in the EU when – or if – the rest of the UK ever leaves.

It might be no coincidence he was talking to her straight after he’d been told a few home truths by Leo Varadkar in Dublin. Johnson’s relations with Foster can’t be that close, if there’s a whiff of betrayal of Ulster in the air. The prime minister must be getting desperate if he’s trying to con the DUP – they’re far too shrewd for him.

On the other side, we see Labour edging ever closer to a proper second referendum. Tom Watson sensed the opportunity and lived up to Labour’s duties to its communities by advocating a second referendum first, that is before a general election.

Jeremy Corbyn remains bit mixed up about it all, but he has moved a long, long way over the past few months in living up to his responsibilities, so some credit for that. Thus the Remain alliance, though it will never be any kind of electoral one, is looking more coherent and cohesive than it has any right to – across the spectrum an agreement on a Final Say referendum with Remain as an option on the ballot paper. That is all that is required.

The supreme court of the UK will now declare whether the prime minister has broken the law which would be, as with so much else, unprecedented and an obvious disgrace. The Palace would be furious. Not that he will mind, but it does all rather detract from the dignity of his office. A Tory prime minister is not supposed to mislead his sovereign lady.

Sadly for Johnson and his allies it is as yet impossible for him to just give the judges a couple of months off. Like a naughty schoolboy finally facing up to the consequences of breaking the rules he is coming to terms with the limits of what his boyish charm and cunning scams can do for him.

If cronies, wisecracks and dissembling were enough to get Brexit done, Johnson would be holding the champagne receptions for himself and his party at their forthcoming conference, Instead he will have to pretend that everything is going well, to an unbelieving world. The tide feels like it is turning.

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