PROROGUING PARLIAMENT

The Daily Telegraph, 28th August 2019

In almost 400 years no parliamentary session has lasted as long as this one. It is, therefore, only right that it is prorogued and a new session begun.

Respected parliamentarians such as Valerie Vaz and Chris Bryant have called for this to happen and Keir Starmer confirmed to the Today programme that: “Obviously Parliament has to be suspended or shut down when you have an election or we have a new parliamentary session.”

The abnormality is not that it is happening now but that it has not happened before.

The State Opening of Parliament is an event of symbolic grandeur that indicates the importance of the challenges ahead and allows a government, and especially a new one, to set out its priorities.

There will be no stronger indication of the Prime Minister’s determination to make good on his commitments and to prove his strength of leadership.

This Queen’s Speech will focus on helping the NHS and fighting violent crime. It will set out plans to build infrastructure and to support science. It will seek to cut the cost of living.

By doing so, the new Prime Minister is responding directly to the vote for Brexit, which sought to restore the power to our nation’s democratically elected government to concentrate on improving what Disraeli called the “condition of the people”.

This is the essence of government overshadowed by Brexit, it is time it returned to centre stage. Yet this will not stop debate on the great constitutional conundrum of our time.

Lords and Commons alike will have the opportunity to debate the broad scope of this programme even as the crucial European Council meeting, to be held on Oct 17-18, takes place.

The Government’s firm desire is to reach an agreement and then to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill as the main priority following the speech, but this depends on the outcome of the council. 

Holding the State Opening on the 14th means MPs will be able to vote on the 21st and 22nd in the full knowledge of the state of play. A new session enhances debate and democratic decision-making.

By convention, votes on the Queen’s Speech are of the first order of importance, so the Government will need to convince people that it has robust Brexit and domestic policies.

This overarching approval of a government, normally given annually, is one of the ways the Commons shows it supports the legislative agenda. It is also a challenge for those who accept the 2016 referendum as a concept but reject its result.

In 2017 the major parties agreed to deliver on the people’s vote, but now they seek to thwart it.

There is no constitutional crisis except that caused by those who voted for the referendum, then supported the use of Article 50 and backed the Withdrawal Act. Every one of these had comfortable parliamentary majorities, often backed by those who now cry out that following a plebiscite is undemocratic. This is untrue and unconstitutional. As AV Dicey, arguably the most influential constitutionalist, said, all conventions have “one ultimate object, to secure that Parliament or the Cabinet … shall in the long run give effect to the will … of the nation”.

Every established political party has had to contend with differing opinions among both its members and its voters while the idea of leaving has worried those who fret about the nation’s capabilities.  Fortunately, the British constitution is a robust and flexible one. It can bend to the passing storm as it has done over previous centuries.

There is nothing that is happening now that does not have a historic precedent and a happy outcome. Uncodified yet well understood, it allows for a balance between the various powers of the State who exercise their control on behalf the people. 

In this beautifully crafted system, no harm ever came from respecting the will of the voters.
 

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