Parliament is sovereign – but that means it has to exercise its sovereignty

As every first year constitutional law student knows, in the Westminster system, Parliament (or the Queen-in-Parliament) is sovereign.

There is no question where responsibility for the UK’s leaving the EU must lie – with Parliament.

So the British Parliament exerted its plenitude of sovereign powers when it installed a government pledged to Brexit following the 2017 general election. And when it passed laws setting a leaving date.  Also when it rejected the EU withdrawal treaty negotiated by former PM Theresa May.  And definitely when it granted supply to the May government and its succeeding Johnson government to keep on trucking.

So what is one to make of Boris Johnson asking the Queen to prorogue Parliament (that is end the Parliamentary session in mid-September and then start a new one after a delay of a month or so – ostensibly to pass his triumphantly-negotiated but highly-unlikely new EU withdrawal agreement). Continue reading “Parliament is sovereign – but that means it has to exercise its sovereignty”

How is Boris’s Brexit plan looking?

The old joke about a man falling from a 10 story building – at the 5th floor, he shouts ‘So far, so good’.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his people are doing a lot of cheery shouting.

One of the taunts flung in the face of his parliamentary opponents is that they are too late to stop the UK leaving the European Union as scheduled on 31 October.  If they bring forward and win a no-confidence vote when Parliament resumes in September, legislation to fix the parliamentary term will let the PM schedule the resulting election for just after Brexit day. Continue reading “How is Boris’s Brexit plan looking?”

Britain’s Brexit brouhaha brings down a reputation for stability and good governance


The UK is due to leave the EU on Friday next week without arrangements for either a transition or a future relationship.   Prime Minister Theresa May wants a short delay to see if she can finally get Britain’s Parliament to agree to her exit plan.  The EU is likely to grant it.

This sort of end game was always probable given the importance of the issues at stake.  The delay will ratchet up the pressure on all of the parties, until one of them cracks.

Readers of this blog will know the background by heart.  Britain’s Conservative party government has spent two years negotiating a transition and exit agreement.  The draft agreement is a relatively ‘soft Brexit’ intended to align the UK with the EU’s trading and regulatory arrangements and making these hard to change without leaving Northern Ireland, part of the UK’s sovereign territory, subject to EU rules. Continue reading “Britain’s Brexit brouhaha brings down a reputation for stability and good governance”

Pressure builds as the Brexit deadline approaches

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   As Britain prepares to formally leave the European Union on March 29, little seems to have changed despite frenetic activity.   A dozen or so MPs have defected to form a new cross-party political grouping; there are fresh challenges to Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn …

But the choice facing the UK is exactly the same as it was at Christmas: accept lousy terms in return for a smooth sort-of-exit or leave without an agreement and try to patch up the useful bits of the broken relationship.

The hard choice arises because the EU is not offering reciprocity in the new relationship.  It wants the UK to compromise its sovereignty, comply with EU market rules, limit its ability to trade freely with other countries and pay money as the price of preferential access to each other’s markets. Continue reading “Pressure builds as the Brexit deadline approaches”

Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   As the Christmas truce approaches, the EU and UK have set out their respective plans for how they will respond if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March next year without a withdrawal agreement.  The announcements are proof of the increasing likelihood of ‘no deal‘ Brexit; they also have the potential to drive the parties towards the very outcome for which they are the contingency.

The EU preparations bear a passing resemblance to the War of the Roses battle cry of “kill the nobles, spare the commons”.  Steps will be taken to avoid inconveniencing individuals by keeping flights running, protecting the rights of UK residents of the EU and so forth, while going slow on measures to help UK businesses to deal with the flood of new obligations – like border and veterinary checks, licensing requirements, tariffs etc – that will descend overnight.

The hope is that the disruption, and in some cases stoppage, of trade will show the UK government and electorate the error of their ways and ideally bring them to heel. Continue reading “Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck”