Did the flexibility of the UK's unwritten constitution facilitate changes that have made governing almost impossible?
Until recently, liberal elites in Europe and America at least pretended to believe in democracy, the fundamental right of the people to choose their representatives through constitutional formalities—elections. This commitment appears to be fading. The formalities of modern government are decreasingly understood to serve the people in making their choices, but instead tend to enhance the prerogatives of government itself. Revenge has a long bipartisan history in the U.S., but recently matters seem to be getting worse. If leftists do not win an election, they now proceed indignantly to take revenge on disobedient electorates by crippling their elected governments.
In America, the Democratic Party that lost the 2016 elections at every level simply decided that the people do not have a right to the president they elected, in this case a Republican. So, partisans of the Left have since been trying everything they could think of to overturn the legitimate results of that election.
The first of these efforts centered on the not entirely sane hope that the Mueller Report would accuse President Trump of conspiracy with Russia. Now, across Russia’s Western border, another conspiracy is supposed to have taken place in Ukraine. Accordingly, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives prepares to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. Thankfully, there are elections coming in 2020 that could put a stop to this, even at the cost of suspending the education of American liberals in European geography. I say thankfully not because I am confident of the results of the election—that’s up to the people—but because I am certain there will be an election.
So thank God for the Constitution, or Official Washington might simply attack elections instead of the elected. This is now happening in Britain, and it urgently demands our attention. Brexit has finally become what it was always going to be, a full constitutional crisis. This week, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, an institution younger than most people now alive in the UK, has suddenly declared its authority over Britain’s ancient constitution and actual political institutions.
This is a textbook example of judges hijacking politics. The UK Supreme Court was created when then-Labour PM Tony Blair passed the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, explicitly in order to subordinate British politics, and especially its justice system, to the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. You might not think the UK’s leadership would make it their job to subject themselves and the people they swear to represent to foreign authorities, but you’d be wrong.
Thus, in 2009, the UK Supreme Court sprang forth like Athena from the skull of Zeus, fully-grown and armored for battle. And in 2019, it has unanimously decided that it, rather than the people or their elected representatives, will decide whether the Queen and the Government can prorogue Parliament. Twelve justices put a stop to British politics with the sole purpose of preventing elections where the people could choose their representatives.
The character of British law itself is therefore in question now, however hard it may be for the press to say so, or for people to realize this, as they’re facing a baffling, unprecedented, highly arcane institutional ruling. Previously, we had believed that the oldest constitutional regime in the world was dedicated to representative government. Now, we are told that power must be arbitrary and administrative rather than representative, and only official experts to whom the people never consented through elections must decide the most serious political questions.
Let us therefore present the issue in its clearest political form. Boris Johnson became Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister this summer after his predecessor’s resignation. He was committed to implementing Brexit, because the British people voted for it in a referendum in 2016. But the Parliament has since decided that it will not do so and, instead, that European unelected officials should decide Britain’s fate against the will of the majority.
The Parliament faces an easy choice, if it understands itself as bound by the consent of the governed. If it does not trust PM Johnson, it can easily hold a vote of no confidence, since he no longer has a majority in the House of Commons. That would lead to elections and the people would choose which party they want to run the government. This is what PM Johnson wants, so he asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament and have a new election.
Prorogation is used with some frequency in British politics, but rarely for such an extended time. The truth remains that rather than some extreme measure, is a simple and recognized procedure used to suspend Parliament. The reasoning of the PM is sound and democratic. If the Parliament refuses to implement the Government’s policy, then politicians must turn to the people for their choice. Since Parliament refuses to turn to the people, the Prime Minister may have to do it for them and save democracy.
Parliament cannot run the country—only a Prime Minister that commands a majority of the House of Commons according to the will of the people. That is the constitutional system that the UK’s citizens look to every time they vote in an election, as happened most recently in 2017, when the winners of the election, the Conservatives, formed a majority coalition to implement Brexit.
The majority in the Commons has since decided to reject the political principles on which each of its currently sitting members has been elected—but not to relinquish those seats. They relinquish democracy instead. Since elections are partisan, this means now that the Conservatives who formed the Government after the elections of 2017 are the minority and the majority coalition now formed around the losers of that election, Labour, refuse to hold a new election.
This switch may seem a mere matter of chance, but it is not—it is fateful. That the losers of an election hijack the Parliament in order to deny the winners the Government and in order to prevent another election is the pluperfect image of elite vision of liberalism. But it would be incomplete without a Supreme Court created from paper in order to subordinate the country to the EU deciding that the Queen and Prime Minister acted illegally—and instead the Parliament should ask the EU’s unelected leaders to decide Britain’s fate.
This is a crisis, but a crisis is a moment of clarity. We do not know whether PM Johnson can stand up for the people and for the Queen and for the ancient constitution. We do now know, however, that the Labour-led majority in the House refuses to have elections and refuses to have a British Government decide Britain’s fate in relation to the EU according to a popular vote. We also know that the UK Supreme Court has put itself at the head of this attack on democracy.
It is up to the people of Britain to reassert their democratic right to elect their representatives and thus consent to government. Or perhaps they have since lost the passion for freedom and would enjoy the tyranny of their newest master, the UK Supreme Court.
We must look to Britain and consider things carefully, since we are facing a similar attack on democracy in America. Our own liberal elites are trying to destroy the results of democratic elections through unelected officials. But happily our Founders were wise and we have a Constitution which is out of the hands of corrupt elites. We will decide in 2020 whether democracy means elections or, on the other hand, obedience to experts, bureaucrats, and life-long political operatives.
We will decide whether governments are established among men to secure their inalienable rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, in the words of the Declaration of Independence. American protections against the elimination of politics are stronger, but the U.S. government can also be crippled fairly easily, as the last three years have shown. But we should be glad of the opportunity to affirm the connection between democratic equality and the freedom to govern ourselves.