Sarah Pittam is an experienced executive, non-executive director and adviser within the education sector.
There has been no shortage of intemperate outbursts from the chatterati in response to the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament. Those that have condemned it are all convinced that these are the workings of an arrogant, dismissive Prime Minister determined to avoid the rightful scrutiny of Parliament at a time of national crisis.
In fact, they are all wrong and the angry statements of John Bercow (‘a constitutional outrage’), Jeremy Corbyn (‘a smash and grab raid on our constitution’) and Hugh Grant (‘**** off you over-promoted rubber bath toy’) reveal that they flatter themselves. So intoxicated are the commentariat, broadly defined, with their own self-righteousness that it has escaped their notice that this strategic decision was not about any of them.
No-one in the UK is the intended audience for this remarkable decision. The intended audience is the EU leadership. This move reveals the determination of the Prime Minister to inform the EU leadership in word and now deed that the only way to avoid No Deal is for the EU to compromise and that the procedural machinations of the House of Commons will not come to the EU’s rescue in the way that they did in January of this year.
Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin were able to deploy Standing Order 24 and force an extension largely due to Theresa May’s unwillingness to undermine the primacy of Parliament. Boris Johnson has no such reservations. Whilst some may denounce this as a morally suspect move, it is not constitutionally suspect. It is quite lawful and there are numerous historically precedents. The Prime Minister has simply used the executive power (there’s a clue in the title) vested in his office in order to send a message to the intransigent triumvirate of Tusk, Juncker and Barnier that they will not be saved by the arcane niceties of Parliamentary procedure.
Tusk, Juncker and Barnier have been correct thus far to place their faith in the predominantly Remainer House of Commons. The EU was sure that they would never find themselves in the last chance Brexit saloon because the unlikely alliance of Corbyn and the Gaukeward Squad would thwart a No Deal Brexit. The rules have now changed. Johnson has made it clear that he is in charge and has shown the sort of existential and political confidence that May was never able to muster.
This decision illustrates the strategic clarity which now dominates the Number 10 machine. The objective of leaving with EU on 31st October with or without a deal is now unalloyed with what if contingency planning. Number 10 has conducted intricate scenario analyses in order to work out the best and most efficient way of achieving that objective. It has formed an implementation plan, assessed probabilities and allocated additional funds to No Deal preparations. This strategy is being executed down to the last possible level of detail. No amount of theatrical indignation will derail Number 10’s determination and ruthless efficiency.
Those who object to Brexit appear to have lost sight of the fact that this is a negotiation between the Government and the EU, not between the House of Commons and the Government. Further wrecking moves are not going to solve the problem, nor enable the UK to reach an agreement, but will simply prolong the agony. Number 10 has simply removed the uninvited guests of Remainers in the Commons from the negotiating table. Remainers and anti-No Dealers cannot conclude an agreement with the EU and thus Downing Street has decided that their presence is obstructive.
When it comes as negotiation analysis, a dominant strategy is one where both sides will benefit from an agreement. Notwithstanding the face-saving and bravado that has gone on between the two sides, a No Deal must be avoided because nobody can state with absolute confidence the extent to which it will impact either the UK or the EU. If it goes wrong for the UK, the result will be food and medicine shortages and civil unrest. If it goes wrong for the EU, Angela Merkel having held the post of Chancellor for 14 years, will be left with a legacy of tipping her country into a recession and Leo Varadkar will have to explain why he allowed the Irish economy to implode.
The EU leadership hope that Corbyn et al will be able to use procedure to reverse this prorogation but I fear they are mistaken. Come 10th September, the penny will finally drop and the EU leadership will realise that they are the target of this Machiavellian strategy. It will be an uncomfortable experience and the UK’s negotiators should expect resistance until the very last minute. It’s an all-or-nothing strategy from which might fail. But after three years of manoeuvrings and obfuscation, there is no other way.