So the Government seeks to hold a Queen’s Speech on 14th October, with an attendant prorogation from 10th September.
Ministers argue that this is a normal thing for a new administration to do, that it is within their usual constitutional rights, and that it is standard practice to prorogue before a Queen’s Speech. They also point to the fact that Parliament normally doesn’t sit for most of this period anyway, due to the Conference recess, and that they want to get on with their job. They’re right.
Furious Remainers argue that it’s a deliberate tactic to reduce the Parliamentary time available for the newly-founded Remain Alliance to pursue the plan they announced yesterday to legislatively block Brexit. They’re right, too.
By extension, there are some things each side claims which aren’t entirely right. The Government has its tongue in its cheek when it suggests this is solely about its legislative agenda, and not about disrupting its opponents; and its opponents are talking flagrant nonsense when they rave that it’s a ‘coup’, a threat to ‘the very nature of our democracy’, and so on.
The question really is how well either side’s arguments hold up politically, and what power they have available to convert them from rhetoric to reality.
It’s within Remainers’ rights to seek to disrupt and obstruct the Government, as they announced they intended to yesterday; but equally there’s no obligation for the Government to make it easy and opportune for them to do so.
Similarly, it’s rather difficult for pro-EU MPs who recently tried to arbitrarily alter the British constitution in order to create new rules and powers for themselves in an open attempt to simply get their way, to now criticise the Government for doing far less by using the executive’s usual and existing powers to get its way.
Big shock: both sides want what they want, and are working to get it. It’s called politics.
What happens next?
Johnson has slammed the ball back into the Opposition’s half of the court, apparently to their dismay. It’s a characteristically Cummings strategy, seeking to knock opponents off balance and to dictate the agenda before they can right themselves. They now have a short time to decide how to bat it back, and a wobbly position from which to make that decision.
Their first problem is fundamental: who now speaks for them, and who has the authority to set their response? That in itself will shape the nature and form of the response.
Officially Jeremy Corbyn is the alternative Prime Minister, but as his absence from yesterday’s press conference showed, the tentative Remainer coalition is still founded on pretending he doesn’t exist, because he’s too toxic for most of them to contemplate putting into power.
Some MPs look to John Bercow, who has come out swinging already, in the hope he might be willing to sanction (or even invent) new ‘unconventional’ constitutional arrangements to undermine the Government’s powers.
The lawfare merchants, who have waged so many well-funded court cases in the last three years, will no doubt be considering any possible legal angles, but the early take from lawyerly types is that they will struggle to find one.
If the Government’s approach stands in the face of the Speaker and the courts, then that simply focuses the battle onto the House of Commons next week.
Bluntly, do the opponents of Brexit have the numbers to enforce their will through the Chamber? Only yesterday they opted not to hold a confidence vote, presumably on the basis that they did not have the numbers.
Will they now risk it anyway? Might Johnson’s announcement have swayed enough Tory rebels against him?
And ultimately, if there are enough votes to defeat the Government, are the Opposition completely sure that doing so wouldn’t constitute walking into a trap, teeing up the Prime Minister to announce that, regretfully, an alliance of the hard left and anti-democrats have left him no choice but to go to the people in order to deliver not just Brexit, but the new age of optimism and national reform that he intends this Queen’s Speech to usher in?