Posted: 2019-09-24

The ruling that Johnson's prorogation was illegal might not amount to much if he wins a general election

The Supreme Court ruling on the recent Johnson prorogation that it was unlawful is a victory for the principles of parliamentary sovereignty and executive accountability. But, as the American baseball catcher Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. If the government has its way and there is a general election, then it’s entirely possible that a large percentage of voters will side with Johnson and return him with a clear majority. Then he can do almost whatever he likes, and the Supreme Court decision will ultimately not amount to a hill of beans.


Countries drift into dictatorship when the mass of people support a leader who is not ‘indecisive’ but instead ‘gets things done’. Mussolini allegedly made the Italian trains run on time and Hitler supposedly reduced German unemployment. Johnson promises to take the UK out of the EU by 31st October, ‘do or die’.


Parliaments, which scrutinise the activities of the executive, and judges, who make legal pronouncements on their decisions, are therefore often seen by the general public as obstructionist ‘enemies of the people’, even when they are fulfilling their democratic function of making the government accountable for its actions.


Would-be dictators almost invariably seek to surmount this obstacle through by-passing the legislature, weakening it or, in extreme cases, abolishing it altogether. Gradually but inevitably, the unaccountable and unchecked decisions extend beyond train timetables and dole queues to more dubious enterprises as dictators overreach themselves and drag their countries down with them.


It is therefore crucial that Parliament avoids the trap of a general election before the EU problem is resolved.  It is clear that the United Kingdom is bitterly divided over Brexit.  16.1 million voted to remain.  A referendum a month later could have reversed the decision. A majority in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. No one voted for a ‘No Deal’ brexit.


Leaving on 31st October would only serve to exacerbate the divisions. Parliament should therefore vote to remove the Prime Minister as a prelude to forming a government of national unity. 


Johnson is the man ultimately responsible for the unlawful action. Anyone else who breaks the law receives a penalty. How mad and unjust would it be if he were to be returned to office with increased power? Or perhaps that sums up Boris Johnson’s life: continually to do wrong and come out smelling of roses. It would be yet another case of what Yogi Berra described as deja vu all over again.


Brian McClinton, 24th September