Last Thursday the Government was defeated by 274 votes to 315...
This week has been one of the worst in British politics in living memory. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament on 9th September for five weeks was unlawful. Prorogation is a normal part of Parliamentary procedure, to end a session and prepare for a new Queen’s Speech that sets out the Government’s legislative plans for the new session of Parliament. Prorogation normally lasts only a few days. This time it was to be for five weeks. The Supreme Court discerned from evidence submitted to them that the Prime Minister’s intention was to silence Parliament and to free him to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal on 31st October.
The Court ruled that Parliament had not been prorogued and was free to meet. It met again on Wednesday and was the scene of deep anger and abuse so much so that all 118 Bishops of the Church of England issued a statement that said “In the last few days, the use of language, both in debates and outside parliament, has been unacceptable. We should speak to others with respect….. We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens, but seek to respect their opinions, their participation in society, and their votes.” I suggest that should apply to us all, especially to Christians.
Quite apart from behaving well, there are two constitutional principles that we should all respect. The first is the rule of law. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, composed of our most senior judges. All 11 of them concurred with the judgement that the Government had acted unlawfully. Like it or not that judgement should surely be respected. The alternative to the rule of law is anarchy or dictatorship. This became personal for me on Tuesday evening. I was mistaken for one of those judges and threatened with violence.
The second principle is the sovereignty of Parliament. This is an established constitutional principle dating from the 17th century following the execution of King Charles 1st and the civil war that followed that. The people are consulted in elections and very occasionally in referenda. To caricature the current situation as a conflict between the people and Parliament is to misunderstand the British constitution. That constitution is not written down in a single document but is recorded in pages of history. It gives Parliament the authority to make laws and to elect a Government. That Government remains accountable to Parliament and can be dismissed by a majority of MPs. It should not seek to silence Parliament and prevent it from doing its duty.
In any case two other details need to be born in mind when understanding the current situation. First, a large majority of MPs and Peers want to fulfil the result of the 2016 referendum. What they do not want is for us to leave the EU without a deal. They think that would seriously damage our economy and cause a lot of unemployment. It might also jeopardise the recruitment of skilled European labour for the NHS and other sectors of our economy. They see no evidence that this Government or its predecessor has and is negotiating a deal that would prevent those ills.
However strong one’s views about Brexit, it can surely not be seen as the ultimate issue facing our nation. The tone and conduct of political debate about this issue reflects a lack of wisdom and judgement and that applies, for the most part, to both sides of that debate. A Christian response would be to pray for grace. Jesus is our model. He was attacked by all the politicians of that time and responded with grace. It took him to death on a Roman cross and by God’s grace he was resurrected. The subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a further sign of grace at work. We see that grace worked out in Moses and the freeing of the Israelites. Our prayers should be for grace today to heal the divisions in our society and to equip our elected representatives to find a wise solution to our relationship with the European Union.