The British prime minister's move to suspend parliament is profoundly undemocratic but is being treated with kid gloves.
In news that surprised absolutely no one thanks to leaks from Downing Street, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that his government is planning to prorogue parliament right before the critical October 31st deadline for Brexit.
In other words, parliament will be suspended but not dissolved until just two weeks before Brexit, meaning the same MPs will return to sit and have very little opportunity to come to a consensus on what kind of deal, if any, they should pursue with the European Union.
While there is certainly an argument to be made that British parliamentarians have had ample opportunity to come to a consensus over the past three years, what Johnson is now putting into motion is the very suspension of British parliamentary democracy in order to preserve a democratic referendum result that led to the whole Brexit fiasco in the first place.
An unelected hypocrite
Rather than coming straight out and honestly saying his suspension of parliament is so that he can force through a hard Brexit and take his country out of the European Union without a deal, Johnson is instead claiming that he simply wants a new queen’s speech to outline an “exciting” legislative agenda. According to Johnson, he simply wishes to move ahead with building new infrastructure and bringing down violent crime.
But it is important to note that Johnson is making huge decisions on behalf of a democratic nation while he himself was not elected to the post he is now serving in except by a minority of the population, namely Tory party members.
Johnson’s hypocrisy and that of his supporters in government are staggering as they lead the nation down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole and all in the name of democracy.
While Johnson claims that he is respecting the 2016 referendum result by leaving the EU “do or die” at the end of October, it is always despicable, if not entirely shocking, when politicians who talk about upholding democratic values night and day make moves to undermine and show the utmost contempt for the democracy they are supposed to be upholding.
Speaker John Bercow, whose acerbic wit has become a mainstay of the House of Commons, has been unrestrained in branding Johnson’s prorogation plan a “constitutional outrage”, and he’s right. There is simply no way that an unelected prime minister with the tiniest of parliamentary majorities can claim to be serving the democratic will of the nation by crashing Britain out of the EU without a deal, all while suspending parliament.
After all, wasn’t the entire point of Brexit to “take back control” and to tell “unelected officials” in Brussels where to get off? Weren’t we told that Brexit would help restore British parliamentary sovereignty to ensure that British laws have dominion over British lands?
It surely has not gone over people’s heads that Johnson is attempting to restore sovereignty by executing a “very British coup” against democracy, as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said.
Muted global condemnation
It is also quite insightful that Johnson’s decision to undermine one of the world’s oldest democracies has received very little fanfare when compared to other stories that did not deserve anywhere near as much attention.
For instance, it is indisputable that Turkey is a functioning democracy. Nevertheless, Turkey and particularly its elected leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are lampooned incessantly in the international media for being “authoritarian” and “dictatorial”.
While no system is perfect, everyone would be so lucky to live in a “dictatorship” where the opposition wins major local election victories, as we saw with Ekrem Imamoglu beating the governing party’s candidate in the Istanbul mayoral elections this summer.
Nevertheless, I remember walking through Paris just over a year ago and seeing newspaper stand after newspaper stand emblazoned with larger-than-life portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan branding him as “le dictateur”. Why? Because apparently, it was a bad thing that he took action against the FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) members who actually bombed the Turkish parliament in 2016. You might think that members of the media wanted the coup attempt to succeed and for democracy to be overthrown, and you would be forgiven for doing so.
Neither Erdogan or his party have ever suspended the Turkish legislature, and even constitutional changes were voted on by a plebiscite, a form of direct democracy whether those in western capitals liked the results or not.
Johnson, on the other hand, has been described by members of his own party and the opposition as having orchestrated a coup against parliament, yet he is not being held up as an example of unelected authoritarianism by the global media.
It is absolutely shameful that Johnson is allowed to behave like this and it is even more shameful that the mainstream media finds itself incapable of applying the same standards it applies to other democracies such as Turkey when reporting on more “acceptable” first world countries like the United Kingdom.
It is no wonder people like the British prime minister feel emboldened to act so brazenly to press forward with a populist right-wing agenda when those who are supposed to hold him to account cannot be balanced themselves.
Whether British parliamentarians can be organised enough to pass legislation to prevent a catastrophic crashing out of the European Union is still up for debate, though it is looking less and less likely. What is not up for debate, however, is the fact that Johnson’s attempts to suspend democracy for the sake of democracy is about as undemocratic as you can get.
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