Britain’s Thin Veil of Democracy

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Britain’s Thin Veil of Democracy

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With each day that passes until the Oct. 31 deadline, it seems more and more likely that a no-deal Brexit is going to happen. In a “no deal” situation, the U.K. would immediately leave the European Union with no agreements regarding the divorce process. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the British people and the economy, and it could potentially lead to food shortages, higher fuel prices, scarcity of medication and long waits at the U.K. border. The fact that this no-deal Brexit is so likely to occur without any input from the majority of the British public showcases an archaic lack of democracy within Britain’s governmental institutions.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is one of the most prominent figures that has endorsed leaving the E.U. since 2016, and has been doing all in his power to get this no-deal Brexit to happen. However, Johnson was only voted in by a small segment of British citizens in order to gain his title as the country’s next prime minister. After multiple failed attempts to get a deal done for Britain to leave the EU, the previous prime minister, Theresa May, resigned in May of this year. Following this, Britain’s Conservative Party held a leadership election to see who will serve as the nation’s Prime Minister until the next general election is held in 2022. With only Conservative Party members and Parliament being allowed to vote, Johnson won the election against Jeremy Hunt with over 92,000 total votes and became prime minister. This situation calls into question how Boris Johnson was able to become prime minister and push Britain closer and closer to a no-deal Brexit when receiving only 92,000 votes in a country with over 66 million people. While May also supported Britain’s departure from the EU, she at least tried to get a divorce agreement done and was voted on by the British public in a general election. Johnson pushing the U.K. closer to a no-deal departure from the EU while being voted for by only a fraction of the British public is an egregious violation of democracy and the will of the people in my eyes. Britain’s rules and procedures regarding leadership elections after a Prime Minister resigns are democratically insufficient and need to be amended, as this unique situation has shown.

In his efforts to force a no-deal Brexit, Johnson requested to suspend Parliament (also known as prorogation) for five weeks in order for him to “set up his domestic agenda.” However, many of Johnson’s political opponents believe this was done so MPs in Parliament could not debate legislation and oppose his plan for a no-deal Brexit. Queen Elizabeth II granted Johnson his request, so Parliament will be suspended from session until October 14, a little over two weeks before the Brexit deadline. Seeing this as a deliberate act to impede Parliament from legislating against a no-deal Brexit, the Inner House (the supreme civil court) in Scotland ruled Johnson’s decision as unlawful. This case has made it to the Supreme Court in London, where they will hear the government’s appeal against the Scottish court decision. If the British government loses this appeal, Johnson would have to advise the Queen to recall Parliament straightaway.

I agree with the Inner House ruling that Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament was deliberate and unlawful. It is apparent to most observers that Johnson suspending Parliament was done to cut down on the amount of time that MPs have to oppose or prevent Britain’s exit from the EU with no deal. Johnson temporarily mitigating the powers of Parliament in order to advance his own political agenda goes against traditional democratic values and the autonomy of the British people. The MPs in Parliament are supposed to represent the people of Britain, so preventing them from doing their jobs takes away the voice of the nation’s citizens in this matter. The fact that the Queen, who is not an elected British official, has the power to suspend Parliament based on Johnson’s request makes this act even worse. The title of Queen in the U.K. is supposed to be mostly symbolic, but apparently that’s not really the case. This power that an unelected public figure wields over the functions of Parliament shows just how backwards and archaic Britain’s “democratic” government truly is. Unless Parliament can quickly come up with a way to prevent a no-deal exit from the EU after being recalled, it looks like Boris Johnson will get his way.