Saturday, September 07, 2019

Parliamentary Developments

The UK parliament has been described as the "mother of parliaments" as I believe that apart from the Manx parliament on the Isle of Man, it is the oldest in the world.

That our parliament received power as long ago as 1215 to require the King of England to be accountable to parliament and in essence to require free men accused of wrong doing, to have fair trials, signifies perhaps that some updating is long overdue.

Of course there were few free men in 1215 other than barons whereas in C21 the population at large is mostly free. However in the 800 years plus that have passed since magna carta,  there have been many other  huge developments in society and the world at large.

These developments in the UK have included after WWII, consideration being given towards codifying human rights and indeed duties, and  the former though not  yet the latter, has largely occurred through the  passing of the Human Rights Act 1998.

UK Parliamentary legislation  has rarely required referenda to provide support. There was a referendum promoted by the LibDems on whether the first past the post voting system for MPs should be changed but the people chose to keep the existing system.

David Cameron when Prime Minister, promised a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU. He travelled to Brussels with a view to negotiating some arrangements with  the EU which he could put to the  British people to encourage them to vote to remain. The EU foolishly in my view, offered him nothing and much to David Cameron's concern the ensuing referendum in 2016 determined the the UK should quit. 

Sadly, although David Cameron himself  promptly quit, the people's decision to quit is still being argued over more than three years later.

The latest twist in the ongoing saga occurred this week when MPs  with the assistance of the Speaker of the House, took over the parliamentary debating arrangements from the government and substituted their own. 

Traditionally, the Speaker is supposed to act neutrally but he had already made clear his wish for the UK to remain in the EU  which sadly in my view, compromised his neutrality. However the Tories will now presumably put someone forward as  parliamentary candidate in his constituency, when the general election eventually comes. Usually the speaker of the House of Commons  is not opposed by other parties' candidates in General elections

Meanwhile, The House of Commons passed legislation tying the government's hands to such an extent, that the PM is theoretically now required to seek yet another extension  to the UK's EU membership, this time by three months. Added to all this the Tory government  team, has taken the party whip from the 20 or so (former)  Conservative MPs who voted to support this tying up, with a result that the government has far fewer supporters in the House than before, leaving them as a minority government. 

The Labour and other opposition  parties who have been calling for weeks, for a general election, now refuse to agree to one which seems absurd. No wonder the world's press are camped in parliament square wondering what the next development will be.

Yet Parliamentary procedure did and does need a shakeup which it has not really had in the 800+ years since the Magna Carta. Quite what this should involve, is surely best left to a learned committee of MPs to consider as objectively as possible rather than for the arrangements  for parliamentary change to result from subjective politicking  in an area  where the general public's views have already been determined by referendum?

As for the future; Boris Johnson has already indicated that he would rather die in a ditch rather than seek an extension to UK membership of the EU beyond Halloween 2019. 

My own  view is   that the Commons tying hands procedure, is so extreme and unique that the PM's duty is limited to following it to the letter. 

If Boris Johnson requests an extension and does not for example resign first, the extension will have to be approved by all the EU members including the UK. The Common's tying hands legislation, did not  so far as I am aware, do more than require the PM to seek the extension.  

The Times today reports that some MPs  acting against the PM, have already travelled to Brussels and secured in advance,  other countries' agreements that such an extension will be granted. 

However the UK like any other EU country has the power to veto such matters. Given the wording of the MPs' subjective legislation, I see no reason why the PM should not after  first seeking the extension, then veto any that might  otherwise be offered.

Additionally or alternatively, the PM could seek such a veto from another EU member. The difficulty about that however is that  the UK pays  so much into the EU coffers that nearly any other country including those whose leaders are friends of the British PM, will risk losing out financially if the UK does leave. 

Almost as  aside, on BBC Radio 4 last night there were Polish speakers who were saying how friendly they were towards the UK but that they feel that the UK  is diminishing  itself by seeking to leave the EU. Poland of course receives large payments from the EU  which has up until now been supported financially, by the UK.

Possibly I missed talks by speakers  from the other side about the UK's position; otherwise I wonder if BBC these days stands for Brussels Broadcasting Corporation. 

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