The Speaker is being criticised for discussing Brexit with the President of the European Parliament. “Speaker Bercow and I were very much on the same wavelength regarding the importance of the roles of our respective parliaments in managing Brexit,” David Sassoli declared. It is claimed that Bercow has no mandate for any such engagement.
However, this view fundamentally misunderstands the Speaker’s useful intervention, which must be seen in the context of recent constitutional developments, including the following:
- The novel use of procedure to drive a measure with major implications for our system – namely, the Benn Act – through Parliament in only a few days.
- The emergence of Oliver Letwin, with regard to the timetabling of debate on that Act, as the real Prime Minister – but one who, unlike the man who nominally occupies the post, is not accountable to the Commons.
- The Speaker’s previous ruling that the word “forthwith” means something other than it means, contrary to the advice of the clerks, thereby paving the way for Brexit’s postponement.
- The Supreme Court’s recent declaration that Parliament is something other than it is, in its ruling on the Government’s recent attempted prorogation, thus boosting its own role within our unwritten constitutional settlement.
- And the unwillingness of MPs to submit themselves to a general election – now demonstrated twice in recent weeks.
This innovative rebalancing of Britain’s formal arrangements should be viewed alongside the recent transformation of our informal ones: for example, Extinction Rebellion “taking back control” of Parliament’s immediate surroundings.
It will be plain that all these workings are superior to Direct Democracy, as exercised by a record number of voters in the EU referendum of 2016. Empowering the British people to make such decisions, over the heads of their elected representatives, has evidently given them ideas above their station. The fightback of MPs and peers, spearheaded by Bercow himself, is thankfully restoring the norm.
What is perhaps less obvious is that these new arrangements also herald the superceding of representative democracy – and are superior to that, too. By making up Commons procedure as he goes along (apologies we mean, by means of “additional procedural creativity”, to deploy his own illuminating phrase) the Speaker has set a example for other Parliamentarians to follow.
For in his own words, “if we were guided only by precedent, nothing would ever change”. MPs should reflect on their transformative potential. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act already sets out specific norms for the time period between general elections. Why should MPs not reapply the Letwin procedure, once again take control of the Order Paper, amend the Fixed Terms Act and extend the term of this Parliament for, let us say, another five years?
This would have additional benefits beside putting uppity voters back in their box. These potentially include the following:
- A new lease of Parliamentary life for MPs who are due either to retire or unlikely to be re-elected, such as Philip Hammond, Anna Soubry and Jared O’Mara.
- In the short-term, the emergence of a new Government, perhaps led by the Speaker, which could agree a series of further rolling Brexit extensions with the EU if necessary, without the inconvenience of seeking a democratic mandate.
- In the medium, realigment within Parliament itself and the formation of a new political party, which would exclude the extremes represented by Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
- In the long, rolling Parliamentary extensions to complement the Brexit extensions, perhaps with Ministers appointed from outside the Commons and Lords on the basis of talent. For example, Coleen Rooney would evidently make a first-rate Security Minister.
- ConservativeHome is hopeful that the Supreme Court would strike out any challenges in the courts to these arrangements.
If this programme is considered too radical, we would reluctantly concede second referendum on EU membership – but draw a formal lesson from the informal privileges currently being extended to Extinction Rebellion.
So, for example, the franchise for any referendum could exclude non-University graduates. It is time to grasp the real message of the 2016 referendum: that universal suffrage has been a mistake of historic proportions. If that proposal is considered too drastic a change, the referendum could maybe experiment with pocket boroughs, with plural voting made available to marginalised groups on an intersectional basis.
All that is missing is an emblem for the putative new party. We suggest a spider, as in Lady Hale’s brooch. And, in closing, apologise to anyone offended by this manifesto of anti-democratic power grabs – which has no equivalent in real life, as we have seen.