The United Kingdom is in freefall, and only the Queen can stop it.
Every system of government is governed by rules. Most modern states have written Constitutions that lay down the powers, boundaries and rules for people in government – elected or not. Even China has a written Constitution. However the character of the individual occupying constitutional office redeems or devalues the office. Where the individual falls below ethical or other standards constitutions have rules to take care of such cases.
Britain, blessed with a continuous political history going back a thousand years, where the last foreign invader was the Normans in 1066 CE, has never written a Constitution. It has operated on the basis of precedents and rules observed over the years that have evolved into a code of practice.
The system relies on a monarch who is the Head of State and in whose name the Prime Minister rules. The monarch wields no political power and is a figurehead. The Prime Ministers over the last three years have taken the country to a point where a “hard Brexit” stares us in the face. It will ruin the country and reduce the United Kingdom to a rump.
If the Prime Minister and his band of extremists have their way, we will see an immediate and precipitous decline in British living standards. It is highly probable Scotland will unilaterally declare Independence while staying subjects of the Queen – a la Australia, Canada and New Zealand. During the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales in 1998, and when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the membership of the EU was taken as a given. A hard Brexit – or indeed any Brexit – will see Northern Ireland rejoin Ireland.
Things are moving quickly and there may not be much of the United Kingdom to save. The Queen has enormous political goodwill in the country. She is in her 90s. She should not have to see the United Kingdom she so carefully nurtured from Empire to Nation fall to pieces because of unscrupulous politicians in her lifetime. Her son the heir, Prince Charles, does not carry the same moral authority.
The state of affairs is appalling. Here’s a brief summary:
- The simplistic referendum of 2016 asked a simple question – Yes to Leave, No to Remain. A small majority voted for Yes to Leave. How this was to be operationalised was never defined. Instead a new Prime Minister (Theresa May) drew up needlessly rigid negotiating positions without consulting opinion in the country.
- No one in the Conservative Party, when campaigning for Brexit, had even bothered to read the Good Friday Agreement with Ireland that brought peace to Northern Ireland – in particular how dependent it was on NOT having a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
- Since the red lines involved leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, it requires a hard border with the EU at the Northern Ireland frontier.
- Scotland was the first to protest these red lines. Scotland does not suffer from the scourge of anti-Europeanism. Being part of the EU was very much part of the attraction of being with the UK. Almost immediately the SNP raised the bogey of Independence. Of late even Wales, which has been part of the United Kingdom since the 14th century, has started to talk of Independence.
- A hard border in Northern Ireland invalidates the GFA. To square this circle a complicated Withdrawal Agreement was drawn up which preserves the Customs Union and Single Market until such time as the Irish (both Republic of Ireland and their Northern cousins) agree on a solution. Effectively kicking the can down the road.
- But this does not meet with the extremist views of the English Right Wing, who hanker for the days of Empire and think British membership of the EU is a surrender of sovereignty. It is not. Its a voluntary pooling of sovereignty on common economic matters. Its regulatory heft sets global standards, its economic heft gives it a huge advantage in trade negotiations. None of them seem to be aware of critical Britain is to the EU and how valued the UK is to the EU. Instead the less read and the well read among them, lead by poisonous papers like the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, have propagated this myth.
- The Withdrawal Agreement was accepted by all members of the Theresa May cabinet. The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab were part and parcel of the negotiating team. Under the principle of Collective Responsibility all Cabinet Ministers signed on to it.
- The next day both Ministers resigned disavowing the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Agreement was put to vote in Parliament three times, and defeated three times. Members of the Conservative Right Wing voted en masse against it.
- The Prime Minister stepped down. The EU, recognizing the mess, extended the deadline for leaving to October 31st, accompanied by a stern warning from the EU President Donald Tusk not to waste this time.
- Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister by 76,000 people in the UK who are members of the Party. He promptly put together a Cabinet of all the right wingers who had voted against the previous Prime Minister. And of course, spent most of July and August wasting time.
- He first disavowed the Withdrawal Agreement and asked the EU to drop the Irish “backstop”. He asked the Irish to merge with the UK, then denied it, then told the Irish to tell the EU to drop the backstop.
- He met the German Chancellor. In an idiotic display he misunderstood what Angela Merkel told him – that if a solution can be found in 30 days when it could not be found in 2 years (to the Irish backstop) then of course the EU will reopen. His spin doctors duly told the Press that we had 30 days. After much ridicule from the German press this piece of spin was quietly retired.
- He then shifted to telling the EU and the British public that the 2016 vote was actually about leaving without an Agreement. This means Britain will instantly lose access to the Common Market, lose all preferential access, be cut off from all European supply chains, lose the benefit of highly advantageous Free Trade Agreements the EU has concluded, and make all UK citizens living in the EU foreigners, and vice versa for EU citizens living in the UK. Further a Government Assessment drawn up in August 2019 documents that this would be an economic disaster. Knowing all this, the PM has staked his political future on crashing out.
- Shortly after that, after denying strenuously that he will not close Parliament down before October 31, he did. Parliament is prorogued for about a month from the middle of September to the middle of October. Proroguing the Parliament is a device for the Prime Minister to close the Parliament with the view to asking the Queen to re-open it with a new legislative program. Johnson told the Queen there is a new program. But actually he was doing this to stop Parliament having the time to debate his Brexit plans and instead, be able to simply force an exit on October 31.
- The uproar caused by this move galvanized the Opposition to quickly put together a Bill to delay Brexit. Aided by the Speaker who bent procedural rules here and there, the Queen provided her assent to an Opposition Bill obligating the Prime Minister to ask the EU for a delay upto January 31 2020. The bill came into effect on September 7.
- The Conservatives broke ranks and 22 MPs – including the Father of the House Kenneth Clarke – voted with the Opposition. All of them were expelled from the Party. The PM’s brother and another Cabinet Minister also quit the Party. Jo Johnson, the Prime Minister’s brother said he could not put family loyalty above the national interest.
- The PM then made speeches stating he will disregard this law. Immediately the legal fraternity warned the PM that he will go to jail if he does that, and risk immediate disqualification from the House. He is being egged on by the extremists and indeed may do just this.
- A few minutes ago, an exasperated EU warned the UK that they see no seriousness, no proposals and no intent – and to avoid a moral hazard of rewarding this lack of purpose they may just not grant an extension. And the PM’s men tell every channel that while they intend to obey the law, they also intend to break it.
The United Kingdom is in grave danger from its own political class. Until galvanized by the twin threats of a No Deal Brexit and a prorogued Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition was countenancing a disastrous Brexit cooked up by the Conservatives while pretending to oppose it, and all the time floating schemes to return to the leftist politics of the 70s. The PM on the other hand, is behaving like a charlatan, a spoilt child, intent on ruining the credit of the United Kingdom in all respects.
The choice between the British is between two futures – the Central African Republic of the United Kingdom, and the Socialist People’s Democratic Republic of the United Kingdom. If there is a United Kingdom left.
On October 19th the PM is under compulsion to ask the EU for an extension. If he refuses and resigns, another Conservative PM could be elected to ask for such an extension. It is quite likely that the EU will grant this extension. Even then if the EU provides some changes to the May Withdrawal Agreement (highly unlikely) the PM can put this to vote in Westminster. The chances of this WA passing with the backstop intact are remote.
Of course the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement (that sets out the future relationship between the EU and the UK but is not binding in nature) has also been amended as part of the recent Bill and that may enable some Labour MPs to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. It is also possible that the backstop only covers Northern Ireland – hence putting the Customs Border in the Irish Sea. Doing so will ensure a much closer embrace between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and in that case Irish reunification is not far away.
No one knows the sense of the country. It is clear that any form of Brexit will divide the United Kingdom, and yet Brexit has become the poster-child of English nationalism. As Tony Blair puts it so passionately, there are only two forms of Brexit – a pointless one and a disastrous one. The pointless one – as exemplified by the Withdrawal Agreement – binds us to the EU for a period of time without any influence on the rules. The disastrous one is to leave severing all links to the biggest trading and political bloc in the world which Britain did so much to shape.
There is no way to satisfy all these partisan demands that have arisen on the basis of one flawed Referendum.
Only the Queen can tell the nation to pause Brexit, and think it over. The nation can hold a second referendum detailing the terms of each Brexit option, its pros and cons, and then act on it. She can either convey this to the PM in her weekly audience with him, or choose some other way of talking directly to the people. It is her right to do so. After all she is also British, and a highly respected fellow citizen.
It is also possible for the Queen to ask the PM to make way for a respected leader from the House to lead a Government of National Unity to guide the country. She can suggest to the Leader of the Opposition to participate in such a move. It has been done before – in the Second World War.
What is the point of the Queen obeying constitutional propriety when a gang of unscrupulous politicians are flouting them? She is the only adult left in the United Kingdom who can potentially stop the free fall. She has one chance to stop the madness.
Your move Your Majesty!