Elections, History, Neo-liberalism, Politics, Populism

The Guardian view on general election calls: stay and finish the Brexit job

Oct 29 2019

Editorial

Boris Johnson wants to get rid of this House of Commons because it stands in the way of an even harder Brexit than he is letting on

Oliver Cromwell’s speech attacking the Long Parliament in 1653 has gone down in history. “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” At more recent moments in Britain’s past, Cromwell’s words have been called into service once again by later generations, most famously by Leo Amery in the 1940 Norway debate in a speech attacking Neville Chamberlain’s handling of the war with Germany, which ended with those selfsame Cromwellian phrases and which helped trigger Winston Churchill’s arrival in Downing Street three days later.

It is more than possible that Boris Johnson, a tinpot Churchill now auditioning to be a tinpot Cromwell, may invoke those words yet again when he calls for a general election in the House of Commons on Monday. Last Friday, Mr Johnson summoned his inner Cromwell and told the BBC that the British people must be “released from subjection to a parliament that has outlived its usefulness”. In a parallel briefing, No 10 was even more blunt, telling reporters: “If parliament refuses to allow Brexit and refuses to allow an election, then what’s the point of parliament?”

Well, here’s the point of parliament. And here’s the point of this one. The Long Parliament had sat for 13 years when Cromwell called for it to go. The current parliament has not yet sat for two and a half, which is less than half of its term. It is not even close to outliving its usefulness. Contrary to Downing Street’s lies, this parliament does not refuse to allow Brexit. Indeed it voted for Brexit only last week in the shape of the withdrawal agreement bill. But this parliament does not want Britain to be bundled out of the EU with no deal or on terms that threaten jobs, the economy, peace in Northern Ireland or the union with Scotland. This government does not care about any of these things.

This parliament should absolutely refuse to be bullied out of existence, least of all by such a government. It should be clear, as this newspaper is clear, that Mr Johnson’s sole aim is to achieve a Conservative majority that would scrap all of this parliament’s hard-won efforts to soften Brexit and would replace them with a deregulatory wilderness that would be catastrophic for our people. This parliament must stay in place to stop this.

As so often, the truth is the opposite of what Mr Johnson says. This parliament, elected in 2017 when Theresa May tried – and failed – to get a large majority for her hard-Brexit terms, has plenty of usefulness left in its tank. This parliament has had to develop a uniquely detailed knowledge of the issues and implications involved in Brexit. This parliament has learned that it is now facing a double-dealing administration led by a prime minister whose word cannot be trusted. This parliament is therefore supremely well qualified to decide on the subject. The point of this parliament is that this is absolutely not the time for a parliament of novices, over whose eyes the wool could be pulled more easily.

Last week, parliament voted for the withdrawal bill and called for more time to scrutinise it. Mr Johnson refused. Since then, it has become clear why he did so. Last Tuesday he told Labour MPs who were considering voting for the bill that “there can be no regression” from existing employment rights after Brexit. This was untrue. Last week ministers were given a Brexit department paper which says Britain is open to “significant divergence” on regulatory provisions and workers’ rights. In other words, the reason Mr Johnson wants this parliament out of the way is so he can deliver a Brexit that weakens rights and regulations more than he is letting on.

Britain has no need of an early general election. It needs to get this phase of Brexit sorted first. This parliament was elected to do that. It is the fault of the May and Johnson governments, not of parliament, that it has been so difficult. Mr Johnson’s intemperate goading undoubtedly make things worse. But it is the point of parliament to keep him in check. MPs are making a good job of that. If the ghost of parliaments past could join Monday’s debate it might even say to them: In the name of God, stay, and finish the job.

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Related:

Don’t let the drama of an election distract us from the billions wasted on Brexit

Gaby Hinsliff*  – The Guardian

Showman Johnson hopes his EU humiliation and the £8.3bn squandered on no-deal plans will be forgotten. It must not be

If you really want to know how a magic trick is done, then stop looking where the magician wants you to look.

Ignore the spectacle and the theatre, designed to distract the audience; don’t listen to the patter, but watch what the hands are doing. And what is true for magicians is doubly so for politicians. Boris Johnson has the nation focused on the drama of a Christmas election rather than on this week’s humiliation over Brexit, but we should have learned by now to look at what the government is doing rather than what the great showman is saying.

All the overblown rhetoric about dying in a ditch rather than delaying any longer, and the chest-beating about having some secret plan to avoid asking the EU for an extension, have been exposed for the empty nonsense they were. We are not Brexiting on Thursday after all; and hot on the heels of the overwhelming relief most Britons will feel about avoiding a no-deal crashout comes a white-hot blast of rage at the time, money and energy so senselessly wasted over the last three years.

Johnson once, unforgivably, described £60m spent on inquiring into historic child abuse as money “spaffed up the wall”. So how on earth can he defend successive Tory governments blowing about £8.3bn of public money, and much of Whitehall’s collective brainpower, on Operation Yellowhammer – the no-deal emergency planning operation that lent credibility to what now look like empty threats to leave come what may?

And while it’s galling enough to imagine what else the nation could have done with those billions, that is barely the half of it. Think of all the stockpiling and worrying and understandable stalling of investment plans that businesses have done over years of being constantly nagged to “get ready” for Brexit – without ever knowing what exactly what they should be ready for. Think of all the people not hired, the expansion plans put on ice, the pay rises denied because cash had to be saved for contingencies.

Think too of all the life plans put on hold by couples worried that this isn’t a good time to start a family or move house, and the anxiety gnawing away beneath the surface of so many lives. And for what, exactly? Was any of it real, or have we all simply been pawns in a bigger game, marched up the hill and down again to lend credibility to a negotiating strategy based on threatening no deal in order to secure a deal?

There certainly are Tories deluded enough to think a no-deal Brexit is a price worth paying for their fantasy, but the evidence suggests that the prime minister isn’t one of them. He always said he would prefer a deal, ripped up his own negotiating red lines to produce one, and is probably triggering an election now, at least in part, to avoid too much parliamentary scrutiny of the difference between what he promised and what his Brexit deal delivered. (If you wouldn’t buy a secondhand car from someone who refused to open the bonnet, then don’t buy a Brexit bill from someone who threatens a snap election the minute MPs start kicking its tyres.)

Putting Operation Yellowhammer on ice merely confirms the political reality, which is that the prime minister’s bluster is no longer particularly credible either in Brussels or at home; and that in truth we have wasted untold national opportunities in pursuit of the magic beans that Vote Leave promised, only to be presented at the last minute with an opportunity to make ourselves poorer. No wonder the prime minister would rather we were all looking the other way. But there may be only so any times this particular Houdini can escape from a straitjacket of his own making.

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* Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

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