The Brexit impasse has pushed British politics close to the historic boundaries of its democratic system of government, and the only thing that’s certain is that this is not a good thing. The Wall Street Journal notes the ways that Boris Johnson’s embattled premiership is already testing the UK’s unwritten constitution, and the potential impact of further shocks to this durable but hardly indestructible institution.
- One of the most surprising (and to many observers, offensive) gambits has been Johnson’s move to draw the Queen into politics, most notably with his request to prorogue (dismiss) Parliament for five weeks during the crucial countdown to Brexit, currently set for October 31. Although the Queen obliged Johnson, as advised by her Privy Council, her dutiful fulfillment of her ceremonial role naturally opened her to criticism from opponents who argue that she has been made complicit in an unconstitutional maneuver intended to silence Parliament, undermining its sovereignty.
- Now that the Conservatives have lost their majority in Parliament thanks to defections and Johnson’s own expulsion of 21 Tory rebels (leaving him at the head of a minority government which the opposition is currently unwilling to challenge) an even stranger possibility emerges: the Queen could ignore the Prime Minister if he appears to be acting against the will of the majority of Parliament — placing the monarch in a genuine democratic conundrum.
- Even more brazen, Johnson may simply refuse to carry out Parliament’s command to seek a three-month extension of Brexit from the EU, something he has vowed never to do. This would put him in the position of flouting Parliamentary legislation, normally unthinkable, on the fairly flimsy basis that he is carrying out the democratic will of the people as expressed in the 2016 referendum.
- Nobody is quite clear what punishment Johnson might suffer for refusing to enforce Parliament’s will, as such a thing has apparently never happened before, at least in the modern era.
- Johnson could also simply refuse to present the bill seeking a Brexit delay to the Queen for her signature, or advise her to refuse to sign the legislation — a move without precedent since 1708, which would once again drag the monarch into politics, this time in a far more inflammatory and partisan context.