Quite apart from all the other reasons why it is a bad idea, the Remainers’ Surrender Bill – intended to order the Prime Minister to seek an extension for Brexit from the EU, and to obey any instructions from the EU as to when, if ever, Brexit is to happen – breaches the fundamental principles of separation of powers.
It is not the function of Parliament to govern; that is the function of the Executive. There are very good reasons for that constitutional principle. For a slow-moving and public forum such as a legislative chamber to try to dictate the management of the State’s affairs is hopelessly inefficient. It is scarcely better than Parliament seeking to order the captain of the English cricket team what to do if he wins the toss, who to get to bowl and for what spells, and when to declare. Come to think of it, it’s worse than that. It’s like ordering the captain of the English cricket team to make these decisions according to the wishes of the captain of the Australian cricket team.
Plainly, the effect of the Surrender Bill, if it becomes law and not promptly repealed following a prompt general election (which the Tories should win by a landslide) would be to hand huge power to the EU over the fate of the UK. It is hard to know whether the humiliation or the economic damage would be the worst.
The function of Parliament is to make laws, and to hold the executive to account. It should stick to that.
Neither, for that matter, is it the function of the courts to make decisions about what the Executive should do. Obviously, the courts can intervene if something is unlawful. But the challenges now being made are not really about whether the government is acting unlawfully; the Remainers have strayed into the arena of asking the courts to make political decisions. As Lord Sumption has cogently pointed out, this is extremely unwise territory. But of course judges are human, and there is a real risk that they will be susceptible to the flattery of power.
It is indeed fortunate for the UK that the present leader of the Labour Party is such a plonker, such that the sizeable majority of the electorate think that he is wholly unsuitable for high office. Hopefully, there will be a general election soon, and proper order will be restored.
So, how to achieve a general election, given the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act? There might be three methods:
- To do what is envisaged by the Fixed Term Parliament Act itself, namely to obtain a two thirds majority of the members of the House of Commons. The problem here is that little Keir Starmer is much cleverer than Jeremy Corbyn, and realises that Labour would lose. Big time. Then again, Jeremy Corbyn has the support of Momentum, who are not clever at all, and they might goad Corbyn into accepting the challenge.
- If that doesn’t work, then it would be possible to pass a one-line Bill repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act for the purpose of a single election to be held in mid-October. The problem here is that time is running out. And even then, it is unlikely that the 21 Tory rebels who have just been thrown out of the Tory party would be compliant. Not only are they deeply uncompliant, that they would see that they would be turkeys voting for Christmas (they are all due to lose their seats in a general election).
- A third option might be for the government simply to goad the opposition by refusing to cooperate with the wishes of Parliament. All the Prime Minister has to do is to say, “Well, if you don’t like it, table a motion of no confidence”. It is hard to see that Jeremy Corbyn would be able to resist that. Momentum would hate it. But the majority of the country would love it.
Earlier today, I did think that it was markedly unwise for Jacob Rees-Mogg to allow himself to be caught on camera sprawled on the government front bench like an Eton prefect. But maybe it was calculated. Maybe he is onto point three, and is already gingering up the opposition parties for just such a vote of no-confidence.