Today I should have been in the House of Commons seeking the chance to challenge Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on his dishonest and irresponsible approach to Brexit (as I did last week). But, as everybody knows, to avoid scrutiny and accountability, he has shut down Parliament. It was a decision that caused anger across the country and I helped to organise a local rally attended by thousands of people in Sheffield.
I was in the Commons Chamber until the final moments in the early hours of yesterday morning, to protest against the decision and to take the opportunity to congratulate the Speaker John Bercow for the way that he has fulfilled his role of standing up for our democracy. Today Scotland’s Court of Session has ruled Johnson’s action unlawful and Labour has called for the immediate return of Parliament. The Government are refusing our demands and the case will go to the Supreme Court next Tuesday.
Johnson has been Prime Minister for 49 days, but Parliament has only met on six of them. Judging by his rambling and evasive performances under scrutiny, it’s no surprise that he wants us out of the way, but it’s an outrage. Closing down Parliament means that he will avoid the appearance before the Chairs of all the Select Committees that he had promised, and in which he would have struggled.
The closure means that the Government cannot be held to account as they make the most important decisions facing our country since the Second World War; decisions which will affect people for generations to come. It’s not just the big decisions either. On Monday they sneaked out 99 pages of new rules affecting EU citizens in the UK, some rolling back on previous promises. As Shadow Brexit Minister, I’ve challenged them, but without Parliament they can just ignore my concerns.
The situation is extraordinary and dangerous. As well as removing accountability, the Government have ramped up the language of division as they drive the country towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It’s what the Tory Brexit extremists have always wanted; the hardest possible break with the economic and social model that we built with our European partners. Brexit is just the first step in their project; ditching protections for workers, consumers and the environment as they seek a trade deal with Donald Trump and align our economy with the less regulated US model.
It’s not what they said in the referendum and they have no mandate for it now, but under the direction of Johnson’s Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, they will stop at nothing to get there. Last week I led for Labour’s front bench in the Committee Stage of the Bill blocking ‘no deal’ (see my article that day in Sheffield Star) and, after our victory, 21 Tory MPs who shared our concerns were summarily dumped by their Party.
We will continue to press for the reinstatement of Parliament, to ensure that Johnson respects the law and seeks an extension of Article 50 if he does not secure Parliamentary approval for a deal on our departure. We will also continue to press for a further referendum to let the people have the final say between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU – as I argued from our front bench back in March (see here).