Closing Parliament to force no deal would be an outrage

You may have seen reports that Boris Johnson is considering closing Parliament for six weeks in order to block MPs from extending Article 50 for a further period.

Our Shadow Brexit Secretary Tom Brake remarked on this yesterday:

If Boris Johnson can find a kooky or irregular way to shut Parliament out of the Brexit process it will be an outrage.

No deal will destroy our economy, it will have a dramatic impact on the cost of living and it will mean less access to medicines that keep people alive. Parliament must be able to challenge Ministers on the damage it will cause.

Whilst Boris Johnson wants to shut people and Parliament out, Liberal Democrats want to do the opposite by giving voters the final say on Brexit with an option to remain in the EU.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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36 Comments

  • nigel hunter 26th Aug '19 - 12:33pm

    This reminds me of Charles 1st confronting Parliament before the English Civil War.
    Churchill believed that an MP and therefore Parliament serves the country and its people 1st then their constituencies and lastly their Party.
    Pushing Brexit thru,destroying stability leading to uncertain future on a close vote built on ‘terminological inexactitudes’ as Mogg would say is based on keeping the Conservatives in power who are desperately trying to stop their demise.
    Swinsons meeting with others must come up with concrete proposals.

  • How many times were we told that ‘Brexit’ would give the UK parliamentary ‘sovereignty’?

    Johnson’s proposed action is the sort of political shenanigans one might expect from ‘el presidente’ of a banana republic.
    Still that’s what can happen when ‘single minded ideology’ takes over…. thanks ‘Leavers’.

  • Trevor Stables 26th Aug '19 - 12:48pm

    Totally agree with Paul’s article
    However we have to UP our game, our language and our OUTRAGE at what this Charlatan and his followers are doing.

    We are sounding too reasonable.

    We have a compliant Press Electoral Commission and Ofcom all failing to act in the interests of a balanced, fair and Democratic Society.
    The Gloves need to be off.

  • ‘No deal will destroy our economy’… How does having a degree in physics make someone an expert in Economics? The answer is that it does not, and so Mr Brake’s statement is just flimsy opinion, and most certainly not a statement of fact. There are economists who are anti Brexit and there are those that are pro Brexit, but simply repeating such a fatuous line does not make it a fact. (I did bother to study Economics at A level and as part of a degree, but not sure why I bothered as apparently you get it free as a Remainer).

  • Gwyn Williams 26th Aug '19 - 1:13pm

    To take the Physics/Economics analogy further, Newton’s first Law a body will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted on by an external force. Hence the economy will continue unless there is an external force such as a no deal Brexit. Perhaps Parliament would benefit from some more physicists.

  • David Allen 26th Aug '19 - 1:18pm

    Prorogation would be a constitutional outrage. Our Parliament is sovereign. The current House of Commons was elected well after the 2016 referendum, so there can be no excuse that their election might in any way be considered as outdated. Parliament should “take back control”.

    Charles 1st was the last dictatorial leader who thought he could defy the will of Parliament with impunity. And look what happened to him!

  • William Fowler 26th Aug '19 - 1:31pm

    There would be one upside, in the next GE, all the centre ground Tories would be so outraged they would flock to vote for the LibDems whilst if no-deal was done without any fiddling they would accept it reluctantly, as would the country. More likely a GE a week before Brexit date, Boris having positioned no-deal Brexit as an opportunity for a low tax reform of the country which is the only way it would work. LibDem’s would then get a boost from Boris’s annihilation of Labour’s policies and LibDem’s might end up in second place.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Aug '19 - 1:42pm

    Yes, closing Parliament would be an outrage, and a very dangerous precedent (even though it possibly may be legal).
    Just as MPs ignoring and seeking to overturn the result of a referendum would be an outrage and a very dangerous precedent (even if it would be technically legal).

  • Alex Macfie 26th Aug '19 - 1:53pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland: The difference is that we live in a Parliamentary democracy, where Parliament is supposed to be sovereign. Also the referendum was advisory, and in a democracy democratic decisions can be legitimately challenged at any time. Why exactly do you think an advisory referendum from 2016 is so sacrosanct that it demands slavish obedience to the result by everyone from Parliamentarians down to private citizens, to the end of time? It is exactly this thinking that leads Johnson & co to think it’s legitimate to prorogue Parliament so they can force what they see as “the will of the people” without any dissent or challenge.

  • Bit late to state ” The gloves should cone off”, never mind the gloves the boots should have been flying every time a Brexi or Lexi popped up. They are nieve, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. When bad times come and they will, consoling yourself with”I was nice to idiots” really won’t help. It won’t help them either, prodominately uneducated and old they will be the first to discover how much they had to lose and are losing. I’d take a wage that the first to cry and whail will be the Brexi’s and particularly the Lexi’s. How long before I hear “Alas my little village for people like me has been devastated”, not long at all would be my guess.

  • Yeovil Yokel 26th Aug '19 - 2:36pm

    Mark Seaman – we are discussing here a No Deal Brexit in particular, not Brexit in general. I doubt you will find many pro-Brexit economists arguing that the statement “ ‘No deal will destroy our economy’ “is “flimsy opinion” and a “fatuous line”. Neither of my degrees is in Economics or Physics, but I have been running my own business for 28 years and I will wager you half of my pension that Tom Brake (BSc in Physics) is correct.

  • William Fowler 26th Aug '19 - 2:45pm

    I want to remain but I can see the case for low tax, low spending UK doing well out of a no-deal Brexit – not everyone will do well, of course, but much more than half of the populace will do well out it and it would be nice to have the choice in a GE rather than by default via fiddling parliamentary time. A huge bonus for the country would be the second party becoming the LibDems and offering a much more reasonable politics to the country, which might eventually win out.

  • David Allen 26th Aug '19 - 4:34pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland “MPs ignoring and seeking to overturn the result of a referendum would be an outrage”

    I take it “ignoring” would mean “revoking A50 by Parliamentary resolution alone”, and if that’s indeed what you mean, I would agree.

    Calling a second referendum, with a substantially new Question, after more than three years trying and failing to find a way to implement what the first referendum called for, is a very different kettle of fish. It is understandable that the side which won the first referendum would like to cling on tightly to what they thought they had won. However, there are many counter-arguments. As often argued – the original Question was hopelessly vague, the result was manipulated by illegal means with help from an enemy power seeking to weaken the UK, the margin was narrow, and there is solid polling evidence that it no longer represents the majority “will of the people”.

    I would add two further points. First, there must come a time when any “democratic decision” goes past its sell-by date. That’s why we have General Elections at least every five years. It is now more than three years since the referendum, and a government which tried hard to implement its recommendation could not achieve that aim. Whether we next have a GE or a second referendum, it is surely time to re-decide the Question afresh.

    Secondly, it has been common practice in Europe to deal with a referendum “no” vote by asking the relevant electorate to talk about what they disliked, revise the proposition accordingly, and try a second referendum. That practice has often been sneered at, but, as a result, Europe has been able to adapt to concerns and steadily progress by consensus. Meanwhile, the UK haughtily declares that we are far too superior to get involved in such awkward compromises, and that instead, we are going to keep our noses in the air while walking over the cliff.

    All that said – If we are being strictly fair-minded, we should accept that Leavers still also have something of a point. They did win in 2016. There is no absolute right and wrong here.

    That’s why we must depend on the judgment of our elected Parliament to resolve the issue.

  • Mark Seaman,

    A no Brexit will not destroy our economy, I agree. Politicians should be careful with their language, but that happens rarely these days. A no deal Brexit will have an adverse economic effect on the country, worse than a deal Brexit and worse than staying in the EU.

    When you were studying economics did they cover the situation where a country ends a free trade agreement with its biggest trading partner and where some companies closed down their production because of the tariffs their products have to pay to enter this market and move production to a country where no tariffs have to be paid?

    As well as studying economics I studied history and it was recognised that in the 1930s the return of protectionism across the world made the depression worse.

    What economic theory states that when a country’s products face tariffs there is no adverse economic impact?

    David Allen,

    Wikipedia tells us that the Cavalier Parliament was repeatedly prorogued 1670-73. That Charles II prorogued it because it was considering “bringing James duke of York on charges of high treason”. Then there was the “Long Prorogation 1675-77 and it was prorogued again in 1678. It seems King Charles II prorogued Parliament to prevent it doing things he objected too (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavalier_Parliament).

    James II prorogued his Parliament as well (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loyal_Parliament).

    William IV prorogued one of his Parliaments to stop it passing a motion to stop a dissolution in April 1831 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prorogation_in_the_United_Kingdom). Perhaps it was William IV who was the last monarch who defied the will of parliament, but not the will of his minority government (I think about 196 MPs out of 558).

  • OnceALibDem 26th Aug '19 - 5:52pm

    It’s pretty much time for the Lib Dems to recognise the role extra-parliamentary action can and may need to play. Rolling out training on things like non-violent direct action, civil disobedience and organising on the internet in ways that are hardened and resistant to surveillance. That might be something to add to the conference agenda

  • Once again the Tories provide the Libdems with another opportunity for another constitutional reform step; there is no reason for the PM to be able to decide on a whim to close (as Brexiteers like to remind us) a sovereign Parliament.

    It should, just like the fixed term Parliament act, be a very short and simple bill, who’s time has come…

    Unfortunately, on past performance, I don’t see the LibDems as being a party capable of seizing the moment…

  • MPs need to do more than say how outrageous this attempt to remove Parliament from its proper role as the representative of the sovereign people.

    They need to vow that, should the government attempt to prevent Parliament from meeting, they will convene in any convenient place and continue the business of Parliament in defiance of the government, and will resist any attempt to break up their meetings, to prorogue them, or to dissolve them: that they will be willing, should it come to that, to rebel in order to preserve the authority of Parliament.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Aug '19 - 8:29am

    David Allen, it is ignoring the referendum result to say, as Jo Swinson often does “I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit”. People who call for a second referendum are almost invariably doing so simply and solely because they want to overturn the first result.
    The reason the government has so far been unable to deliver Brexit, is because so many MPs voted against the deal, not because they necessarily thought it was a terrible deal, but because they would vote against any form of Brexit.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Aug '19 - 8:29am

    David Allen, it is ignoring the referendum result to say, as Jo Swinson often does “I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit”. People who call for a second referendum are almost invariably doing so simply and solely because they want to overturn the first result.
    The reason the government has so far been unable to deliver Brexit, is because so many MPs voted against the deal, not because they necessarily thought it was a terrible deal, but because they would vote against any form of Brexit.

  • Alex Macfie 27th Aug '19 - 9:07am

    Catherine Jane Crosland: The original referendum result literally CANNOT be “overturned”. The court has said so, because the referendum was advisory so overturning it would be meaningless. Therefore it is wholly inappropriate to treat it with the absolute sanctity that you are doing, as though written on tablets of stone, with all dissent absolutely forbidden. This way of thinking is fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

  • @Catherine Jane Crosland

    “People who call for a second referendum are almost invariably doing so simply and solely because they want to overturn the first result.”
    Not only that, they are calling for a 2nd referendum, however, they will only respect the result, if it was a result to remain.
    Even if the next referendum was binary, they would find a way to try and thwart it, after all parliament is “sovereign” and it would still require votes AND if Liberal democrats found a way to find themselves in Government, however unlikely, they would have the authority to revoke article 50.

    This is why I believe it is dishonest to be calling for this referendum, when it should just be party policy to revoke article 50 and campaign on that, because Liberal Democrats would not accept ANY form of brexit, so why call for a referendum in the first place

  • Catherine Jane Crosland: “The reason the government has so far been unable to deliver Brexit, is because so many MPs voted against the deal, not because they necessarily thought it was a terrible deal, but because they would vote against any form of Brexit.”

    Not true. The ERG would not have voted “against any form of Brexit”! They voted against May’s Deal because it contained some provisions to continue frictionless trade with the EU, which they judged unacceptable. All the Opposition parties voted against May’s Deal because it did not contain strong enough provisions to continue (amongst other things) frictionless trade with the EU.

    So there you have it. The “easiest deal in history” proved to be an unachievable deal. No form of Brexit could be devised which could achieve a Parliamentary majority.

    When the nation has asked its Government to go out and buy a unicorn, and the Government Explorer has just come back with the conclusion that no unicorn can be found on this planet, what is Government to do?

  • Our democracy is ill suited for this battle between parliament and government. The power of the judiciary needs increasing so there is no chance of side-lining parliament. Both bodies need be reigned in by a codified constitution with a constitutional court, improving on the american model.

  • Mark Seaman 27th Aug '19 - 1:14pm

    I agree with the comments regarding the danger of imposition of tariffs, in so far that it CAN be damaging to a country’s economy. But … that has always depended upon the balance of trade that that country experiences. If the UK was a net exporter then I would be concerned about a no-deal scenario, but it is far from being so, and it can be argued that although tariffs would reduce trade overall, that the UK would more than make up for a reduction in it’s exports by an increase in demand in the UK for UK produced goods, due to the tariff induced competitive advantage.

  • Peter Martin 27th Aug '19 - 1:36pm

    @ Mark Seaman,

    “the UK would more than make up for a reduction in it’s exports by an increase in demand in the UK for UK produced goods, due to the tariff induced competitive advantage.”

    It would seem at first sight that it might work like this. But tariffs simply reduce the volume of trade in both directions. So if any country reduces its imports by, say,10% as a result of the imposition of tariffs then its exports are likely to reduce by the same amount. Countries can only afford to import if they also export. The purpose of exporting some goods and services is to be able to afford to import other goods and services.

    There’s no point exporting just for the sake of it except perhaps for a developing country which wishes to accumulate some foreign currency reserves.. That’s Economics 101 but the Germans don’t seem to have got that far!

    There’s an interesting equivalency theorem, showing the relationship between exports and imports, first postulated by Lerner in the 30s (so nothing new) which states that ” an ad valorem import tariff (a percentage of value or an amount per unit) will have the same effects as an export tax.”

  • Peter Martin 27th Aug '19 - 2:00pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “As well as studying economics I studied history and it was recognised that in the 1930s the return of protectionism across the world made the depression worse.”

    It also brought about WW2! So the history is dependent on the economics. In the 20’s and 30’s most countries were on a gold standard. The feeling, correct at the time, was that no-one could run a net trade deficit for very long because that deficit had to be paid for with the transfer of gold reserves. So the tariff barriers went up and trade wars resulted. Trade wars are usually a contributory factor to the later outbreak of real wars.

    Just imagine that everyone tried to copy the German model of being a net exporter. The influx of foreign money from those exports would enables Govts to ‘balance their budgets’, or run a surplus, according to the principle of sectoral balances. Of course not everyone could do this and they would see the countries putting up barriers to their exports , firstly as rivals, then later as enemies.

    It’s an arithmetical nonsense but it’s a dangerous nonsense too. Especially as there’s no transfer of gold any longer and the net exporters don’t have any other option than to take the IOUs of the net importers.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '19 - 5:24pm

    Matt: “They are calling for a 2nd referendum, however, they will only respect the result, if it was a result to remain.”

    It depends what you mean by “respect”. We lost a referendum on changing the voting system. We continue to campaign for a change. However, we did not dispute the outcome of the Alternative Vote referendum, which was to drop the idea of any change in the voting system for (at least) the duration of that Parliament. I think you’d find we’d do the same with a Brexit referendum.

    “This is why I believe it is dishonest to be calling for this referendum, when it should just be party policy to revoke article 50 and campaign on that.”

    Ah, but if we did that, you Brexiteers would pillory us for revoking without any form of public consultation. It would be “Gotcha – we’ll damn you if you want a referendum, and we’ll damn you if you don’t!”

  • Mark Seaman 27th Aug '19 - 5:39pm

    @Peter Martin If the % reduction in exports & imports is the same for both countries as tariffs are implemented, with the UK as a net importer, that would not necessarily lead to a reduction in manufacture in the UK. Tariffs were an issue in the circumstances that led to WW2, but so was the deliberate attempts by countries to de-value their currencies in order to gain a competitive advantage. China does the latter now, and it could be argued that Germany has used the Euro to that end. Free trade with all other things being equal is the ideal set-up, but I do not feel that that is the overall scenario we are looking at in the world today 🙁

  • Peter Martin 27th Aug '19 - 7:14pm

    @ Mark Seaman,

    I’m not exactly sure what you are saying but in the limit that tariffs were so high that international trade stops ie both imports and exports are zero, then trade deficits and surpluses also become zero. If trade halves then they will also halve. So there is a some effect but, generally speaking, tariffs can’t turn a deficit into a surplus.

    As you indicate this is done by currency manipulation. I don’t think there is a single large net exporter, in terms of its own GDP, anywhere which doesn’t ‘manage’ its exchange rate in one way or another.

  • Peter Martin 27th Aug '19 - 7:27pm

    @ Peter Hirst,

    “The power of the judiciary needs increasing so there is no chance of side-lining parliament.”

    Like in the next 4 weeks? I don’t think that’s likely!

  • Peter Martin 27th Aug '19 - 7:47pm

    @ Katerina Porter,

    “At the end of the War we desperately needed a loan and the conditions {from the US} were so tough …..”

    I’m not sure which particular loan you’re referring to but the UK did quite well from US aid in the postwar period. Much was made of aid to Germany in the Marshall Plan but aid to the UK was more than double. See link below. The USA also wrote off a considerable amount of US$ debt which had been incurred by both countries.

    But most UK debt was in ££. I remember reading that Britain had just recently “paid off” the last of the WW1 debt under George Osborne. It was nothing of the sort. The debt had originally been issued as a fixed % bonds in the region of 4 or 5%. As interest rates fell, to less than 1%, after the GFC it simply didn’t make sense not to redeem them.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Plan

  • @Peter Martin – … but the UK did quite well from US aid in the postwar period. Much was made of aid to Germany in the Marshall Plan but aid to the UK was more than double.
    Strange concept of doing “quite well”, to me (with hindsight) it does look like the UK p***ed it up the wall [tangential aside: I wonder how many duck houses were brought…], whereas Germany spent their smaller amount of aid more wisely…

  • Mick Taylor 28th Aug '19 - 9:54am

    All this debate is irrelevant now. The government really is going to ask the monarch to suspend parliament.
    What are we going to do about it?
    Jo, Tom et al, answers please.

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