By Philip Li Ching Hum
The House of Commons has unfurled a high political drama, the culmination of over two years of intricate tactical manoeuvres and procedural minutiae that have marked British politics. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is fiddling with his political career. He looked isolated when during a heated debate his MP Philip Lee defiantly crossed the floor to sit on the Liberal bench. Surprisingly, 21 Conservative MPs were sacked by the Prime Minister but they joined the rebels including his own brother and Boris Johnson thereafter lost his working majority by 328 to 301 in the House of Commons.
Boris Johnson will use every means at his disposal to frustrate the new bill, including attempts to filibuster its progress in the unelected upper house (House of Lords). He is effectively at war with the Parliament while outside in the streets the throngs of demonstrators were roaring slogans while waving the blue European Union flags.
The Brexit issue has become an institutional affair conducted through arcane procedural instruments and prominent court battles. It is a conflict over parliamentary rights and legal obligations. The question lies in the fault line in British democratic structure between an exercise conducted by plebiscite (the Brexit referendum) and the conventional deliberative methods used to interpret and deliver the consequences of that vote. Boris Johnson wants to pose himself as a flaxen-haired avatar of the popular vote. Political analysts have bluntly tagged him as a Prime Minister with feet of clay.
Democracy could be a political theme but when the politicians and the people do not see eye to eye, the situation becomes explosive and verges on a constitutional crisis. Boris Johnson was even coerced to sack the grandson of his political idol (Sir Winston Churchill). During the television live debate on BBC we can see the pain and anger written on his face after Parliament inflicted humiliation on him on Tuesday last. The crisis worsened as the Conservative schism became apparent. He needs 2/3 majority of the Commons to get an election and it is almost certain this figure cannot be reached.
Ever since the Brexit dilemma has surged amid raucous debates, the British Parliament has known three Prime Ministers during this turbulent mandate. The country is heading towards a constitutional crisis. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn together with the Liberal and the rebels MPs are hammering for an extension to 31st January 2020. But Boris Johnson is of another opinion and he swims against the tide: he is pressing for a snap election in October. He retorted arrogantly amid pandemonium “Delay Brexit? I’d rather be dead in a ditch!”
Will the Opposition stop the Government’s destructive course? Boris Johnson will try to battle till the end. The complexity of the new bill reflects the total breakdown in trust between the executive and the legislative. Will Boris Johnson succeed where Theresa has failed lamentably when the latter sought an extension in April last?
* Published in print edition on 13 September 2019