Prorogation

28 August 2019

There are two ways of looking at this morning’s announcement of prorogation. First, for all that Boris kept the soup off his shirt at Biarritz (such a surprise, so statesmanlike, so well briefed…), the brutal fact remains that he came back with nothing. Nor has a change in the national mood emerged to cow the Commons. Instead, Remainers made a show of strength at Church House yesterday. Although 170 signatories on their own may not be sufficient to control the Commons, they turn out to be enough of a demonstration to put the wind up Downing Street.

The other way of looking at the announcement would be that the Government has put a wet finger in the air and determined that its interests are best served by daring a divided opposition to call the vote of no confidence (VONC) which they had earlier rejected as ineffective, by robbing them of the Parliamentary time for manoeuvres which might actually have worked.

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Either way, such a prolonged prorogation skirts the disreputable and has already provoked frenzied blow-back. Litigation in Scotland is likely to be brought forward and more such outings are to be expected in the London courts. Even so, Downing Street spokesmen are bravely crying “bring it on!” That takes us to an election, for which the timing is acutely unpropitious. An election before B-day does no favours for a government which has had no time to achieve anything, not even changing the mood music. “Parliament versus the people” could easily backfire. YouGov  may have had the Tories ten points ahead of Labour last week, but they are only on 32%, unlikely to make for a majority in the Commons and presaging a prolongation of uncertainty. Today’s polling (see final para) indicates that Government’s position has not been helped by the news. And as we argued in our last, if there is

  • “an election shortly after Brexit day, the EU might be tempted to unilaterally defer formal departure challenging the UK to acquiesce ahead of the electoral outcome. This would create intolerable uncertainty, meaning that any election has to be so much deferred as to remove the temptation from Brussels. But an election put off for two or three months after a lost vote of confidence risks political turmoil, litigation and heaven knows what else.”

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Today Boris confirmed his reputation among admirers (and detractors) as a high-stakes gambler. His throw has done nothing to calm the national mood. During the day, YouGov commissioned a snap poll showing 47% objecting to prorogation compared to 27% approving of it, with large minorities of Leavers and Tories unpersuaded. An online petition against prorogation is approaching one million signatures before my eyes. Devout Tory Remain MPs were already so inflamed as to revert to talk about defying the whips on a VONC. Ruth Davidson is “considering her position”, though personal circumstances play a part in this. Overall, however, if the climate of opinion coalesces in this way, it would be the reverse of the change in the weather the Government has been after. At worst (from Downing Street’s point of view) it might yet encourage the Commons to find a way to roar mightily. High stakes indeed.