The government’s ability to suspend parliament at will must be challenged on the streets, and in Exeter this Saturday.
The British constitution finally broke down on Wednesday. A government that lost its majority at the last general election and whose party attracted minimal support at this year’s EU and local elections forced the monarch to suspend Parliament and did so within the conventions of our constitution. As a demonstration of what is wrong with our governing arrangements, it cannot be bettered.
Our constitution is not written down. It is a mix of law and convention. It is a convention that the monarch accepts the advice of the prime minister, including on whether to suspend parliament. There are no enforceable rules about how this advice must be framed. So in practice, any government – even with a majority of one and propped up by a Northern Ireland party whose own track record towards parliaments leaves much to be desired – can get rid of parliament whenever it is convenient to do so. This and other uses of so-called royal prerogative powers have no place in the modern world.
Leaving aside the question of what is the point of a monarchy which is no more than a rubber stamp, where do we go now? The long term solution is for the UK to have a written constitution. Meanwhile we the people need to send a clear message to our government that its conduct is not acceptable. It does not matter whether you are for or against Brexit. The practice of suspending parliament could be used to enable any government to avoid scrutiny on any controversial measure.
Exeter has a long tradition of political pluralism. In the civil war of the 17th century, when parliament was set aside by two other tyrants – King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell – the city’s allegiance wobbled between the two sides. Hopefully, without the Earl of Bedford’s or General Faifax’s troops to coerce us, we can send a resoundngly inclusive rejection of the government’s actions. So, remainers and leavers, people of all parties and none, join the demonstration against the government this Saturday 31 August at 11am in Exeter’s Bedford Square.