The Brexit update–again

Boris Johnson–that most improbable of prime ministers–has announced that he’ll be sending Parliament home for five weeks so it can sit on the naughty step.

Why? To keep it from getting in the way of his Brexit plans. That’s called or proroguing Parliament. The word’s from Latin (prorogare) by way of Old French and it meant to extend. These days it means the opposite of extending: It means ending a session. 

Progrogation isn’t unprecedented. It was last done in 2017 for a general election, and that’s the way it’s normally used–apolitically. One parliamentary session ends to make way for another. This prorogation is different because it’s being used for political ends. 

Any bills that are still in the works when Parliament packs up its toys and goes home will lapse, so what Johnson’s hoping is that any attempt to block a no-deal Brexit will either not have time to work its way through the Commons obstacle course or will get to the Lords and be filibustered there until it dies. That would leave him a free hand to do whatever he wants.

All of which is ironic, because one of the rallying cries for Brexit was taking back Parliament’s sovereignty. 

Irrelevant photo: This has nothing to do with anything, and it’s not even in season. I just thought we might all need something nice to look at by now.

In response, the pound dropped against the dollar. An online petition against suspending Parliament gathered over a million and a half signatures in just a few days, although I’m not sure if anyone in power cares. The head of the Scottish Consservative Party resigned (officially to spend more time with her family). Since she led a Conservative revival in Scotland, that’s particularly awkward. 

For some time now there’s been talk about Scotland leaving the UK if the UK leaves the EU. The talk seems to be getting louder.

Three separate lawsuits have been filed to block Johnson’s move. In one of them, they’ve called for Johnson to state, under oath, why he needs to prorogue parliament. John Major –he was a prime minister himself, and from the Johnsosn’s own party, the Conservatives–has asked the High Court’s permission to join one of lawsuits. 

Some fifty MPs have announced that they won’t be sitting meekly on the naughty step, they’ll continue to meet during any suspension. They include members of the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Change U.K., Plaid Cymru, and the Greens.

The civil service is said to be demoralized. An unnamed former senior official told the Guardian that one thing “making people want to leave is the realisation that they’ll have to spend ten years cleaning up the mess” of Brexit. Another is that they feel their work is “no longer purposeful” because Brexit has strangled all other policymaking. 

The head of planning for a no-deal Brexit at the Department for Exiting the European Union has resigned, which strikes me as particularly disquieting. And Robert Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, warned officials that they need to consider putting their “stewardship of the country ahead of service to the government of the day.”

John Bercow, the Speaker of the Commons, has denounced the suspension of Parliament as a constitutional outrage and Philip Hammond (another big name from the Conservative Party) has said it was profoundly undemocratic. 

Johnson’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said, “Our system is a winner-takes-all system. If you win a parliamentary majority, you control everything.” 

The government promptly announced that he didn’t really mean that.

To sum up, Johnson has very nearly managed something his opponents haven’t been able to do, which is to unite them. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, this morning’s paper (I’m writing this on August 31) announced that sometime in the next couple of weeks, compasses at Greenwich will point to true north for the first time in 360 years, give or take. True north and magnetic north are sort of like the opponents of a no-deal Brexit: They’re not always in alignment. So this is a big deal, if not necessarily an omen. 

In other parts of the U.K., the two may not line up for another twenty years. And that’s not necessarily an omen either. 

91 thoughts on “The Brexit update–again

  1. Here in the southeast US we are right now more occupied with following the course of Dorian the Brexit. But thank you for the update.
    Didn’t Charles II send parliament home, or was it some other royal. I get all those heads of state mixed up what with so many of the same names using numbers. It is a fine British tradition we do not understand here over the pond. That is one reason for the unpleasant period starting around 1776. Not sure but I think I had ancestors on both slides, some dome the could not have cared less.
    Trump has said he is willing to go through short term pain (China) to achieve greater good long term. Brexit people may think like that.
    Tough times ahead. Just keep telling yourself they share short term. But at my age, all I have left is short term.

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    • As someone or other said, in the long term we shall all be dead. You can tell I’m (probably mis-)quoting because I used shall. I have met some people who think it’ll be a short hard time and then–well, I’m not sure what then. I suspect they think that somehow all the money the empire brought in will come back.

      May Dorian have second thoughts and not bother y’all.

      Oh–you’re thinking of Charles I. But also Cromwell. I was going to bring Cromwell into it, but it got too complicated.

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      • I think it was John Maynard Keynes who said that. He was bothered that all the economists at the time would only make long term predictions. He wanted more short predictions for investment purposes. Like, where should I put my money today.

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  2. I was so hoping you’d pick this up and you haven’t disappointed. Thanks. I needed a sidelong smirk today. I continue to believe this will simply never happen; Britain will continue to be in the EU and life will go on as I know it. Except for here in the USA, where we continue to implode.

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    • I haven’t given up hope–and I haven’t stocked up on canned tomatoes, pet food, and toilet paper yet either. But we do seem to be having our own national nervous breakdown. I was about to say that I wish I knew where this was all going but maybe it’s better not to have foresight.

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  3. It’s absolutely despicable and brazen hypocrisy to campaign for Brexit on the basis of regaining the UK’s parliamentary sovereignty and then resort to such undemocratic means as this to ensure what is now such a minority agenda (because surely a no-deal Brexit is not what even those who voted Leave wanted?) comes to pass. As much as I hope with all my might that at least one of the legal challenges to the proroguing are successful, I fear the reality is that BoJo will get his way and the UK will simply crash out of the EU with no safety net, safeguards, or even basic preparations in place. The fallout from that could be nigh on catastrophic. It’s all extremely troubling.

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    • I supposed we could say he speaks from experience. I was looking for an explanation of that and should have followed through but ended up going down a different rabbit hole. Thanks for contributing that.

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  4. Honestly, and I know this is not popular, but I applaud Mr. Johnson for having the chutzpa to bring Brexit to it’s legally-voted-upon conclusion. All of the involved parties had their chance to negate the people’s vote or to go ahead with it under all the options negotiated by Mrs. May (not sure what you call a former PM) and failed to do so. The naysayers were going to prolong things as long as they could to get their way by, well, doing nothing. Those for Brexit were going to prolong things hoping for a deal that would make them appear to echo Bill Clinton’s, “I tried, I really tried, but this is the best I could do.” Is this the best way for it to happen? No. But everyone shot down the best ways for it to happen, and would continue to do so ad infinitum.

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    • The thing is, a no-deal Brexit was never on the ballot–and in fact the referendum was advisory, not legally binding. One (of many) reasons that everyone’s gone into such a meltdown over the options is that extricating the country from the EU isn’t a simple thing and could easily be economically suicidal–at least unless it stays in an economic union with the EU, in which case leaving is pretty much pointless. I think a number of the politicians (and civil servants) looking down the barrel of that disaster are very rightly hesitating.

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      • Was a deal-Brexit on the ballot, or was the ballot just “leave the EU”? In which case my point is the same, leaving was legally voted upon.

        I felt the same way here about our prior admin’s illegal healthcare implementation, as you do about Brexit. I don’t like that it was implemented against law, but on the other side the country needed to address the situation and Congress had continually failed to do anything but push it down to the next session.

        Could things have been handled better? In both cases the answer is Yes. But, sometimes there is no other choice in order to make “what the people want” happen. I hope your exit goes better than our implementation.

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        • The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president, all in the normal way. A challenge to its constitutionality is still working its way through the courts, but I wouldn’t say it’s implemented against the law. And given that drivers are mandated to buy insurance, I think the challenge itself stands on shaky ground, which isn’t to say it won’t succeed–the courts hardly stand above politics.

          As for the Brexit vote, the sane thing to do, I think–given the flawed nature of the vote itself and the additional information that’s come to light since it took place–is to put the question to the nation again. Is this the deal we want (which will probably be no deal, but at least by then it will be clear what the choice means) or do we stay?

          I understand the temptation to just push something through, damn precedent and legality, let’s just get the job done. But you’ve got to stop and ask yourself whether you want the tool you’re forging in the hands of people you oppose, because once you create it you make that possible too.

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            • I also don’t want to get into the minutiae, but I did read up on it a bit–pro, con, and WikiWhatsia. It all seems to hinge on whether it was a budgetary bill or not. Wikietc. quotes an argument that it had enough budgetary implications for the way it was handled to be legit. Either way, it’s hardball politics, no question about that. I would, however, say there’s a difference between hardball politics and sidelining an entire damn parliament on an issue that will, I think, turn out to be of historical significance.

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  5. I’ll have to be very careful here, as I don’t want to leave rude words on your blog. Not for anything you have written, but for the situation our country has put itself in. So I’ll just say that Johnson is a liar and a cheat, and I wouldn’t trust him to run a bath let alone the country.

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  6. Thank you for this update, Ellen. I’ve been following the bogging-down over there from the vantage point of bogging-down over here with considerable disbelief: one that cannot be willingly suspended in proper Coleridge terms. The shrapnel you describe in Brexit Update recalls the final Blackadder episode that aired in 1989, “Blackadder Goes Forth.” Brexit goes forth?
    http://mentalfloss.com/article/91058/facts-about-blackadder-goes-forth-rowan-atkinson

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    • I wasn’t enough of a Blackadder fan to have seen that one. I limited myself (quite easily) to an episode or two because a friend’s son was a fan and I was trying to find out what the hell he was talking about. But from what little I know, I suspect you’re onto something. Thanks.

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      • The series ended with all parties charging into the fog of war and onto the shrapnel-ridden death fields of the Great War (Make War Great Again) — death concluded with the cast committing to a full (fool) shrug. “Brex It” on your side and “Trump It” on ours. Incalculable folly.

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  7. So many similarities, like the “I’ll just do what I want” concept make me wonder if Johnson has familial ties to Trump. Now if you tell me that Johnson is on Twitter all the time then there’s even more fuel to fan the “two peas in a pod” flame :)

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  8. For pity’s sake, I know Donald Trump won’t be reading your blog (or anything else…) but don’t let Moscow Mitch McConnell and his minions get wind of this either !
    I also read “Pict in PA”s blog and she seems to have small choice in rotten apples. As a person of Scots heritage I am interested in seeing how the Scots work that out. And the Irish.

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  9. I just read an article whose writer was wondering if Boris was inspired by Canada’s former PM, Stephen Harper. He prorogued Parliament twice — once in 2008 to prevent two opposition parties from getting together to defeat his minority government, and then in 2010 to “recalibrate,” whatever that meant. Despite protests — in a Canadian January! — he survived to win a majority in 2011. It was 2015 before he got the boot. But the Brexit-astrophe is much worse than anything we’ve seen in this vanilla-flavoured country in recent decades.

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    • At this point in the evolution of our frightening times, I’m inclined to use a narrow definition of fascist, since real ones are having a resurgence. I don’t think Johnson’s a fascist–or a bit of one. I do think he’d do a deal with them if it forwarded his career or amused him. As far as I can see, he has no core principles at all. It does seem Putinesque–the move of someone who doesn’t give a damn for democracy or the representative government he’s supposed to be leading.

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  10. “Irrelevant photo”: certainly better to look at than the Orange-ish Clown from either side of the Atlantic!

    I try to understand these trends across the globe, but it all seems like a huge barroom brawl to me. Nasty folks jockeying for more than the share they’re entitled to.

    Oh well! I’ve tuned out as much politics and world trends as is possible in this cyber-news world. It’s far too confusing and upsetting. I do my bit locally since our tiny little ‘town’ perched on the edge of the Pacific has it’s very own Trump implant. It’s sort of like a cancer growth on what was once a reasonably sane local govmint.

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  11. You need to write updates now on a daily basis, just watching the actual session of British parliament live on German TV now. I must admit that the failure of the political elite (especially in London) makes me now simply speechless which can not be topped anymore by comedians! Cheers

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I must admit, I am watching with the same sense of disbelief and horror the insanity surrounding Brexit and Boris Johnson that I am with our own mess-maker, Donald Trump. I am sorry for England, and I’m sorry for the United States. For us, I am counting the days until our next election, still more than a year away, and hoping Americans won’t allow him a second term. I don’t know enough about the nuances of British politics to know if there is a light at the end of the tunnel for you. I hope so.

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    • There may be, but nothing’s certain yet. I still hope Johnson’s overplayed his hand. Yesterday, one Tory MP defected, so he now leads a minority government, and he’s threatening to boot out any MPs who vote against him, shrinking his majority even further. Stay tuned.

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  13. I’ve shut down all news for the past two months, and very happy with that. Of course couldn’t help but hearing Boris Judas Johnson’s move, worthy of Macbeth, I would say. I could have expected that in Italy with Salvini, (no offence to our Italian friends) but in the UK? Suspend the world’s oldest parliament? You can’t let that happen. Will read your more recent post after lunch. I am distraught. Really.

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          • Haha!. There are some differences in pronunciation between the Brits and Americans. :) Not to mention spelling, which now confuses me. I learnt British English then went to Grad school in the US. Now many times I have spelling doubts. Take care Ellen.

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              • No, I learnt British English with my father. His mother was English. So I can say that French is my mother tongue, and English my father tongue. I was bilingual by the time I was 12-14. Also lived in – former British – East Africa which wrapped it up. Then I went to Grad school in the US (“Tuscalooser, Alabamer” of all places, and spent the first 3 weeks wondering what language they spoke!) ;) (NAw Ah speak Sudern too.)

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              • Yeah, if you’re not a southerner (and I’m not), southern English takes some getting used to. It’s rich, varied (very, by ethnicity, region, and class), and amazing, but some of it goes over my head.

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              • I’m from Manhattan but lived in Minnesota for 40 years without picking up more than a trace of a change in the O–or so an accent coach I met told me. I once sat around with a group of southern white women who were teasing each other about their differing accents, and cracking each other up completely. The funniest part, to me, was that I couldn’t hear the differences.

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              • MInnesota? They speak Swedish there right? ;)
                It’s normal not hear the differences. You just hear a general difference. In Latin America only one Mexican accent is perceived. Outside. But inside Mexico there are dozens different accents. :)

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              • That makes sense–very few of us do break down the differences. As for Minnesota, no, they speak English. It just sounds like Swedish.

                Ooh. I shouldn’t say that. I know I shouldn’t. But it was so tempting I couldn’t help myself.

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    • Um, I have to ask which one. If we’re talking about a new election, no one knows. I think not for a while. Opposition parties–which want a new election–have to oppose it because if the timing’s wrong it’ll give Johnson a free hand for a no-deal Brexit, which is what he’s angling for. So people who want a new government oppose the election that would bring a new government. People who want the current government want an election to keep the current government in power. It’s a through-the-looking glass scenario.

      On the other hand, if we’re talking about the no-Brexit bill, Commons passed it and it’s now a question of whether they can push it through the Lords in the face of pro-Brexit amendments and filibustering. So no one knows.

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    • I just heard that the bill passed the Lords. The queen’s expected to wave her magic feather over it on Monday. Boris Johnson swore yesterday never to ask for an extension–he’d rather be dead in a ditch, he said. So we’ll see if he’s going to defy the will of parliament.

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        • I see politics here with an outsider’s eye I, but I don’t think I’m the one who adds the dash of absurdity to them. I think that’s deep in the original recipe. So even when they’re depressing, they also (if you don’t get too angry or too depressed) funny. Of course, the consequences aren’t. Refugees are sent back to the countries they fled. Even when they’re not, they’re forbidden to work and given (in one category) the most minimal support or (in another) none at all. The list could go on, covering endless topics and categories of people, but I’ll spare you. Not funny at all.

          Liked by 1 person

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