The decision by the British Conservative Government to prorogue parliament for five weeks is a dictatorial action openly contemptuous of democratic rights. Its purpose is to impose an exit from the EU that has no mandate and has been enacted precisely because of this lack of support. This in turn has the purpose of imposing a hard-right assault on the social and political rights of the working class.
The declared justifications for this action by Tory MPs have demonstrated contempt for the very idea of democratic debate. They have torn away the pompous cant about parliamentary democracy through which the British ruling class and its establishment has imposed its rule. As one previous Tory leader said – ‘There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities.’
However, while it is one thing to govern and dictate with rules, it is quite another to assert this dominance by brazenly breaking them. That the British constitution is famously an unwritten one does not change this aspect – not for nothing has this action been called a ‘constitutional outrage’.
Of course, those making this claim are concerned that the essential sham that is parliamentary democracy might be exposed as dispensable when it suits any particular governing clique, which is why they also show more concern for the position of the Queen than for the vast majority of the people who will suffer the consequences. Far from excusing her role in sanctioning this dictatorial manoeuvre as the ‘only thing she could do’, – simply following established precedent – it exposes her as an integral part of this dictatorial measure.
The suspension of parliamentary accountability raises questions for the legitimacy of this action in a particular way for those living in the North of Ireland and Scotland, who voted by a significant majority against Brexit and who would undoubtedly have voted even more heavily against it had it been presented as leaving with no deal.
While Scotland has its own parliament, the willing or unwilling subjects of British rule in Ireland have more reason to fear the dictatorial intentions of British governments than anyone. After all, it was in relation to Ireland that Tory leader Bonar Law made the statement quoted above, threatening force against the democratic decisions of the Irish people.
A Tory government inclined to such measures and allied to the reactionary bigots of the DUP might be emboldened to further measures. Despite the growing awareness of just how damaging Brexit will be, and a no deal Brexit even more so, both the Tory Brexiteers and DUP have doubled down on their support for it. Having done so, and if they do go ahead with it, they can only be tempted to indulge in further measures to defend their decision and repress opposition.
No deal means a hard border, which will impose severe economic damage especially in the North, but also damage and disruption in the South. The undemocratic imposition of Brexit is therefore an issue facing all of Ireland and all Irish workers.
There have been calls on the left in Britain for demonstrations and strike action to push back on this ‘very British coup’ and workers in and outside trade unions in the North should join in these actions.
Those socialists opposed to Brexit should seek to unite and create an internationalist and socialist campaign that can explain why Brexit should be opposed and this latest move resisted. Such a campaign would seek to support the action of workers and socialists in Britain. The impact on the rest of Ireland provides the grounds for further solidarity action by workers in the rest of the island who oppose a hard border and the damage Brexit will do to their own position. Irish workers North and South should stand together to oppose this attack on democracy that will directly impact on all of them.
On a minor note – it might not even be too late for those left supporters of Brexit to wake up and accept that their support for this radically reactionary project should be dumped and Brexit and all it contains opposed.
It might mean that parliament will meet less than would have been the case for 3 days. I’m not endorsing Brexit. But until we learn more, it’s melodramatic to think about a coup.
It could mean that parliament meets for 3 days less than would have been the case. I don’t support Brexit. But until we know more, talk of a coup is melodramatic.
The purpose of the prorogation is to prevent the parliamentary opposition from effectively implementing opposition to a momentous change that will damage the lives of millions when it has absolutely no mandate. It signals the possibility of further such attacks justified by the same specious excuses. That it requires three additional days of shutting down or three hours to effect its purpose is not the point.
Its not three days, its five weeks! Parliament was about to vote to continue sitting during the conference season because of the Brexit crisis. This coup prevents that from happening. Moreover, five days of parliament is taken up with the pomp of a State Opening, and debate on a Queen’s Speech, which would precede any discussion on Brexit, leaving no time for a meaningful debate.
But, at this late stage talk of parliamentary niceties and procedures amounts to parliamentary cretinism. Johnson’s coup moves the focus to outside parliament and to the streets as Paul Mason has said. A coup by definition is an unconstitutional manouevre, and the appropriate response to it has to be an even more robust response from civil society, to prevent the state rising above it.
The focus now shifts to civil society to mass action on the streets, in the communities and in the factories. We need the TUC to call an indefinite General Strike. Until that time, as happened with the 1984 Miners Strike, we need rolling action, with strikes starting wherever support for them can be mobilised, as a means of encouraging other workers to join in the action. We need to establish Tenants and Residents Committees as a modern day equivalent of the Peasants Committees that were promoted in past decades. We need local trades councils to be rejuvenated and joined with District Labour Parties, as local Workers Councils to coordinate action against the coup. We need to establish Workers Defence Squads to protect workers against the fascists that have been encouraged by the reactionary Brexit vote, and who will be mobilised to back this right-wing coup. We need the development of a Workers Militia to defend Workers against any action by the forces of the state that acts to try to suppress workers resistance to the coup.