Boris Johnson can lock the doors to the Palace of Westminster – but he can’t stop MPs meeting for a People’s Parliament

The prime minister has pitted the government against the public, so Best for Britain is helping the rest of us to fight back by crowdfunding to allow the Commons to meet on an alternative site

Naomi Smith
Monday 02 September 2019 14:09 BST
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Boris Johnson says MPs can only hinder a new deal

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

As MPs return to Westminster this week, something is happening. Not “prorogation” (yet) but the seeds of a British revolution. MPs are recognising that the House of Commons is not just a set of green benches, but a living, breathing assembly which cannot be cowed or silenced.

Boris Johnson’s apparent belief that No 10 has to have confidence in the House of Commons to allow it to sit, rather than the House of Commons needing to have confidence in him to allow him to stay, is a misreading of history.

The House of Commons began sitting separately to the Lords in the 14th century, some 200 years before Henry VIII gave permission for its members to use St Stephen’s Chapel at the Palace of Westminster. The Commons has since developed a long and distinguished record of defying executives and elites, with parliament winning pre-eminence over the Crown, and the Commons establishing primacy over the Lords.

At this critical juncture, parliament should be ready to assert itself once again. A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs, with backing from Best for Britain, has got the ball rolling by calling for a “People’s Parliament” to meet.

King Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson can lock the doors to the Palace of Westminster with his prorogation but he cannot stop the Commons meeting on an alternative site. Constituents have sent MPs to speak up for them, and they should do just that. The Royal Festival Hall – built to celebrate the Festival of Britain – would be an apt place for this show of strength; the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre has practical benefits; a venue outside London would be a signal of intent to divest power from the capital.

Whatever the venue, parliament should not be missing in action while the country hurtles towards no deal. Jobs and living standards are in jeopardy. Two decades of hard-won peace on the island of Ireland are at stake. Nearly a century of good relations with our near European neighbours imperilled. And all for what?

The prime minister’s rush to leave the EU without an agreement is no service to the “will of the people” – who never voted to do anything of the kind. The idea that no deal is essential to state the desires of left-behind communities around the country is transparent rubbish. No deprived community will benefit from a £90bn hole in the public finances. Far from taking back control, the country is spinning out of control.

Johnson is trying to prepare for an election in which he pits the very institution of parliament against “the people”. This false battle relies on the idea that democracy should not be embodied in political institutions nor in their reflection of changing opinions. Instead, they seek a democracy defined by one day in 2016, preserved in aspic as an alibi for any and every destructive path taken by the government of the day.

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A powerful parliament would expose the fact that the self-harm of “no deal” is being inflicted to please a powerful minority. For this obsessive sect Brexit at any cost is a matter of pride and machismo over all else. Most of those banging the drum for it will be personally insulated from the consequences by their own wealth.

Best for Britain is helping the rest of us to fight back by crowdfunding to pay for the People’s Parliament to meet. When it does, it will be up to ministers whether to make their case in front of those to whom they are accountable; whether they participate in votes, or absent themselves and permit the government to be defeated. With or without the government present, there is no majority for no deal and a groundswell for a change of course.

Together we can make sure that the real cockpit of our democracy – the House of Commons – can and will meet to speak up for all of us.

Naomi Smith is chief executive of Best for Britain, the UK’s leading campaign for remaining in the European Union

You can find Best for Britain’s crowdfunding page for the People’s Parliament here

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