This article was published by the Herald on 12th August 2019. You can also read the Evening News version online, here.
During the EU referendum, Boris Johnson unveiled the vacuous slogan ‘take back control’. It was always nonsense, but it surely didn’t mean taking control away from Britain’s elected MPs and putting it in the hands of one man? One man who became Prime Minister with the votes of just 0.13% of the population?
Yet that’s exactly what Boris Johnson is contemplating with his sinister threat to prorogue – or suspend – the UK parliament to ensure that MPs can’t stop a no-deal Brexit on October 31st. We know it’s undemocratic. What we don’t know, but will test in the courts, is whether it’s unlawful. That legal process starts tomorrow in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Around 70 MPs and peers from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are among the petitioners. The future of the country is at stake, and working together across parties in the best interests of the people of the entire UK has never been more important. The team also includes Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project, which is backing the action, with Balfour+Manson instructing a counsel team headed by Aidan O’Neill QC and assisted by Professor Kenneth Armstrong.
The action is being brought before the Court of Session because it sits throughout August, unlike the English courts. We’re asking the Court to declare that the Prime Minister can’t advise the Queen to suspend parliament and stop it voting on no deal. If the Court agrees, then Boris Johnson will not be able to suspend the Commons for that purpose without parliament’s permission. We live in a country where our rule of law protects citizens from government. This is what is being invoked here.
The legal petition has already granted permission to go ahead, and – given the urgency of the situation – tomorrow’s initial hearing will determine how to proceed. Like any legal process, this costs money and a crowdfunder has been set up at crowdjustice.com for anyone who would like to help.
Boris Johnson’s reckless proposal to shut parliament down is undemocratic and simply cannot go unchallenged. I’m not prepared to stand back and allow the Prime Minister to take us out of the EU without a deal. That was not on the ballot paper in 2016 and will devastate our economy for perhaps generations.
My city, Edinburgh, is home to more than 39,000 EU nationals, more than anywhere else in Scotland. As many as 5% of all jobs in the capital are filled by workers from EU countries, with this ratio much higher in many of the key sectors and institutions across tourism, hospitality, health and social care, and financial services. Within higher education alone, EU workers constitute 17% of all Edinburgh University staff, while Edinburgh records a higher proportion of EU national students than any other UK city.
The financial services industry provides £5bn in gross value added to Edinburgh’s economy and employs 50,000 people. The UK enjoys the benefits of 750 international agreements through our membership of the EU, but the loss of ‘financial passporting’ would, at the very least, cause major disruption as it would mean we are unable to service markets and trade within the EU and other international markets.
Edinburgh’s economy is more reliant on financial services than the London economy or any UK city economy. Boris Johnson wants to put all this at risk, in turn putting the livelihoods of my constituents at risk. He made a political calculation to get himself into Downing Street and although it worked for him, his lies will come back and bite the country in a big way.
You don’t solve problems by creating borders, but by building bridges. The way to resolve this constitutional crisis is to give the people a final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU. The answer certainly isn’t Scottish independence, which some of my Labour colleagues would do well to remember. Breaking up successful economic and social unions does not work, as Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said at the weekend.
In 2014, Alex Salmond threatened a no-deal Scexit if the UK government wouldn’t let him share the pound. Now, the SNP is offering an even more extreme version – wanting to ditch the pound and hope for the best with a new fantasy currency, with flags and borders more important than people’s wages, pensions, mortgages or savings.
All the wrong-headed arguments for Brexit are the same as the wrong-headed arguments for independence. And when things go wrong, nationalists – Tory or SNP – simply blame others. An age-old political diversion tactic. Now the PM is employing that tactic by blaming the EU before a no deal Brexit in order to shirk responsibility for his own mess.
Rather than seeking to divide our communities, it’s time to bring people together. Let’s start by coming together to show Boris Johnson that he can’t take away parliament’s control and force through a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.