The constitutional crisis: Matthew Cobb’s report from Britain

August 29, 2019 • 8:30 am

I asked Matthew to keep us up to date on the big political crisis in Britain, where PM Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament—with the Queen’s assent, so much for you royal-lovers—so that Johnson can get the Brexit deal concluded in the absence of the legislature. Here’s Matthew’s report from today, with his words indented:

The Johnson coup –  for that is what it is – proceeds apace. Within 12 hours over 1 million people had signed a petition against the prorogation (suspension) of parliament; there were demonstrations in many cities last night and there will be again this weekend; and it is unclear what the next steps will be. The Queen has signed the order proroguing parliament and that is what will happen. After a few days of sitting next week, it will be suspended: both houses, all the committees, everything (this is very different from a normal recess).

The government and their apologists claim that there is nothing new about this, that it is merely a few days extra. This is a lie. This is not a recess, it is a prorogation. Everything stops. Nothing can be discussed. It is the longest suspension of parliament since 1945, at a time when parliament should be questioning government and holding it to account. Johnson —a generic coward and a liar— is evading his basic responsibilities

There is widespread condemnation of this. Here are some comments by those with whom I do not always agree – such as David Allen Green, a constitutional lawyer who voted Leave, a Tory MP, Sam Gimyah, and the Financial Times.

Here is an excerpt from the Financial Times’ editorial this morning:

And here is a view from someone I do normally agree with, the journalist (and my good friend) Paul Mason:

Some idea of how widespread the hostility is in the population can be seen here:

Inevitably, people have also responded satirically, although in this case every word is true:

As to the future, I fear that Johnson will get his way, because the Tories who said they were opposed to such a procedure (a number of whom are now leading members of the government) will cave in because they are unprincipled, and there are a number of pro-Brexit Labour MPs who would abstain in any vote. More significantly, because of the nature of the UK parliament, it is hard to see how this can be stopped by parliament or the courts. The Queen decides when parliament sits, doing what the government (i.e., the PM) says. As far as I can tell, what happened yesterday was entirely legal.

This raises a more long-term issue, far beyond the feverish excitement of the current moment, or even the prospect of a catastrophic crashing out of Europe with no deal on 31 October. This crisis will undo the very foundations of the United Kingdom – Scotland (massively remain) will become independent (the popular, anti-Johnson leader of the Scottish Tories is about to step down for various reasons), while the impact of a hard border on the island of Ireland (this will be a consequence of No Deal, unless everyone is very smart) will drive Irish reunification. I predict both these will happen with the decade. A situation going back to 1707 (Act of Union with Scotland) and 1922 (creation of Northern Ireland) will have been ripped up by the Brexiteers.

Furthermore, the role of the monarch is now highlighted. This goes back to 1688 and the Glorious Revolution, which ended decades of upheaval and argument, including a civil war and regicide. The monarch is supposedly a figurehead, simply doing the government’s bidding. But note that the armed forces (the ultimate power in any country), swear allegiance to the crown, not parliament… It is often argued that the monarchy will act as a bulwark in the case of an anti-democratic government. We have seen that this is simply not true. The result is that the monarchy acts as a legally-untouchable guarantee of executive power. When people start thinking about this, then the basis of the UK’s unwritten constitution may also be questioned. In my view, these events show how dangerous and anti-democratic the monarchical system is.

There is now no apparent way of holding this government to account. That is a coup, in any language. Protests, demonstrations, marches will be necessary to defend parliament.

Here’s a timeline from the Guardian – it misses out various bits of jiggery pokery that might occur next week, but gives some idea of the amplitude of the crisis.

202 thoughts on “The constitutional crisis: Matthew Cobb’s report from Britain

  1. Are there 10 just men and women on the Conservative benches? If so, they could by this time next week bring down thre Johnson regime, install with crossparty agreement a respected interim PM, and have that PM to advise the Queen to negate the prorogation.

    This won’t happen; but the reason for that failure is not that it *can’t* happen

    1. It’s a constitutional crisis because it turns out our constitution has no safeguards in it for stopping a dictatorial prime minister from usurping the democratic power of parliament. It’s a constitutional crisis because it shows our constitution is not fit for purpose.

    2. This is the UK constitution being hijacked for reasons of self interest, nothing more. The economic downsides of Brexit alone are going to be disastrous, but combined with the political implications it’s difficult to see how we can avoid years of misery. All because a small group of self interested plutocrats found a way of disguising their corruption of democracy by appearing to appeal to democracy. I really do hope, even now, that the whole Brexit programme can be reversed.

    1. That’s not enough. No confidence would trigger a 14 day period for Parliament to find a new PM. Too little, too late. The no-confidence call would need to be swiftly followed by the choice of a new PM. Until replaced, Johnson is PM and can advise a dissoluton of Parliament, with a general election the day after the UK leaves the EU

      1. It’s better than the alternative of just letting things ride with an incompetent leader and government. This is the safe guard parliamentary systems have built into them so that button needs to be pushed.

        1. I was replying to Diana MacPherson and the comment about incompetent leaders and government (J. Trudeau)in the knowledge that she is Canadian and it is unfortunate where my reply listed.
          Therefore your comment is subsequently not worthwhile, just mildly offensive.

          1. I had no idea what you were referring to, and I found it vague and provocative. Turned out it was irrelevant too. Please sust say it if you want to say something, rather than sarcastic implications.

          2. Huh? Seems like a complete non-sequitur. I was referring to the parliamentary process of the opposition party asking for a non confidence vote. It’s a mechanism that’s completely relevant to this conversation. I never said anything about incompetent leaders. Perhaps read a bit more carefully and control your emotions before going off and writing something sarcastic. And yes, the Canadian government has used the non confident vote a couple of times in its history. I’m flattered your remembered my nationality to try to provoke me into a nah-nah-nah reply.

          3. So your criteria for me being allowed to comment on the incompetency of leadership is predicated on how competent you see the leader of my country. I hope you apply those standards to all the other commenters and write sarcastic comments on their replies now for consistency.

      1. Mebbe so, but the UK and US would be a helluva a lot better off being led by Trudeau instead of BoJo and Trump — and that goes not just for Justin, but Maggie, dead Pierre, Gary, or any rando Trudeau outta the phone book.

        1. Very true, Ken. Sadly, it comes to something when a dead guy would do a better job, but that’s the situation we Brits currently find ourselves in.

    1. Yes, it is funny that the Brexiteers have been going on and on about the “non-democratic EU.” Apparently they were complaining about the “EU” part not the “non-democratic” part.

      1. Yes, strange how outside the EU the UK will be so much better off because of all the trade deals it can sign, but nevertheless leaving with no trade deals won’t make it poorer. And how Brexit will give back control to parliament, but somehow parliament must be side-lined…

  2. 1.)”…Scotland (massively remain) will become independent…”

    Actually, I doubt if they will go for independence but if they did polls consistently show that most people in England wouldn’t give two hoots. Given that they get £1,600.00 per head more than in England via the Barnett formula it would actually be of benefit south of the border.

    2.) “…impact of a hard border on the island of Ireland…will drive Irish reunification…”

    Just about every survey of popular opinion ever conducted in the UK outside of Northern Ireland has shown a consistent majority in favour of getting out of there.

    …just saying, Diki, somewhere in England

    1. Yes, is there anything actually wrong with Northern Ireland joining the Republic? Currently it just causes the UK expense and hassle.

      In the past, the North re-joining the highly-Catholic Republic would have caused huge tensions, but with the Catholic Church in Ireland having recently lost a couple of referendums, a deal could likely be done along secular lines (that would actually benefit everyone).

      1. Forcing the unionists into the republic would have massive issues.

        Northern Ireland currently gets around 12 billion from the rest of the UK to function. It has a large number of civil servants as a means to make work so have employment in depressed areas.

        We would need a number of years to actually look at all the consequences of a re unification process from national symbols to laws as many Unionists would not be happy with the progressive path the republic is currently on.

      2. Yes, is there anything actually wrong with Northern Ireland joining the Republic? Currently it just causes the UK expense and hassle.

        The Troubles would re-ignite at their previous rate of about 1 death/3 days on average. Which by the standards of American school shootings isn’t much, but it’s a lot of people in absolute terms. Probably a higher death rate than car crashes.
        I wouldn’t expect the Troubles to stay in Ulster, even if all the ferries between the Mainland and Ulster were shut down, requiring the paramilitaries on both sides to pass through two international borders. They’ve long since shown that they’re capable of doing that. So you can expect targets in England and Scotland to be attacked too. Certainly the police and military will have to operate on that expectation. So, bye bye to many of the remaining civil liberties.

        1. Why would the Troubles re-ignite? And why would Protestant terrorists then target the UK? Any dispute they had then, in a re-united Ireland, would be with the rest of Ireland.

      3. Yes, is there anything actually wrong with Northern Ireland joining the Republic? Currently it just causes the UK expense and hassle.

        Plus, of course, the Irish would refuse to play ball. That poisoned chalice thy have no need to sup from.

    2. ‘Just saying’, but the results of those surveys are a perfect demonstration of why representative democracy is necessary, and we don’t just hand over the choice on massive, monumental decisions to some fuckwit off the street.

    3. If there hadn’t been a hung government in 1912, the whole of Ireland would have had Home Rule before WW1, and independence shortly after. The Curragh mutineers would have been court-martialled and shot. Carson and co would have been arrested and charged with treason. There would have been no 1916 rebellion, no Irish civil war, and no 60s/70s Troubles.

      Well, maybe. But I don’t know anybody who doesn’t believe today that a united Ireland is the only possible long-term option.

    1. Although others have already posted tweets about how each person could establish up to 50 different IDs to inflate the numbers. Just like some of the previous petitions also included people with ‘foreign’ email addresses.

      Sound and fury signifying not a great deal.

          1. To sign a parliamentary petition it is only necessary to be a British citizen, so it is possible to be a valid signatory even if you are not currently a British resident.

          2. There is absolutely nothing in either of those posts that supports your original claim that the petition is rendered meaningless by corruption, and there is nothing at all that supports your “50 different IDs” claim.

            The previous petition, to which your first link refers, received 96% of its signatures from inside the UK. The remaining signatures came from UK citizens living in other countries. And there’s no actual evidence that non-UK citizens contributed in any even vaguely significant way to either petition.

            More importantly, using your logic I can simply dismiss any evidence accrued online from the many pro-Leave/anti-Remain petitions for exactly the same reasons you dismiss this petition(because exactly the same structural weaknesses would apply in those cases too).
            And I’d have a damn site more evidence in doing so, since there were open discussions on various far-right messageboards, including 4chan, about flooding the pro-Leave petitions with bots.

            Maybe you want to be part of some kind of epistemic suicide pact, where nothing either side says means anything to the other, but I don’t.

  3. We have massive mistakes that need to be fixed in our own federal govt. system here and Trump is using them everyday. Our own making because we allowed it. Britain has the same problems, I hope, not too late to fix.

    I have to believe that Johnson is working for Putin, just like Trump. What the hell else explains this? The pound is down to $1.23. That is crazy. When I lived in England it was $2.40 to the pound.

    1. I have to believe that Johnson is working for Putin

      I don’t think so. I think he’s working for his cohort of wealthy Tories to do anything – anything – to prevent offshoring of money into tax-free countries from coming under public and taxation investigation.
      It’s a straight cash deal. No political complications (apart from those necessary in crashing the UK government, the constitution and the judiciary).

  4. I concur with much that Matthew says, although I’m more pessimistic than he is that anything will change. The UK is profoundly conservative with a small c.

    I think No Deal has a 90% probability. Talking to friends who are Leavers I’m pretty convinced that the only thing that will convince *them* that there will be any real bad consequences to No Deal is to actually experience them. Even then, I expect many will deny the consequences are bad! Many of their values have been forged in a cauldron of press antipathy to the EU (a lot of it lies made up by Johnson).

    Just a small nitpick: according to the thread below David Allen Green (who is indeed pretty eurosceptic, with nuances) voted Remain in the referendum.

  5. “Queen’s assent, so much for you royal-lovers”
    Dislike the Queen, she’s a useless, ignorant person who carries a box of homeopathy remedies with her everywhere. Though to be fair, as I understand, in the constitutional monarchy of the UK she had no choice. She has zero political power.

    1. Indeed, but if she has no political power, and has to do whatever the government tells her, what’s the point of having royalty. Then you have to argue for them on the grounds of “they add spice to Britain” or “they attract tourist dollars”, hardly a justification for maintaining a heredity group of rulers.

      1. There are some advantages in having a non-political figurehead doing head-of-state duties.

        For example, it’s better that an a-political Queen takes the salute at a military parade, than a divisive figure like Trump (or Boris).

      2. It has been suggested that Boris Johnson might refuse to step down as Prime Minister if he loses a vote of confidence. In those circumstances, if Parliament gave the Queen an indication of an alternative they support, the Queen has the power to dismiss Johnson.

              1. Well up to now 1776 has been very good for you! I’m not a monarchist myself but the truth is that the current queen is very popular in the UK.

                She has to die before there’s any chance of change. With our luck it will probably happen in mid October!

  6. Constitutionally, the Queen must accede to her prime minister’s request. She can, and probably would, strongly advise him against it, but she cannot overrule him. More’s the pity.

  7. … PM Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament—with the Queen’s assent, so much for you royal-lovers— …

    Now, I confess my knowledge of Brit history is a bit hit or miss, but didn’t the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell shitcan Parliament, too? Didn’t work out so well for the King keeping his head, IIRC.

  8. None of this would have been necessary if Parliament had not spent the last 3 years betraying and refusing to implement the democratically expressed will of the people to leave the EU. That is the real affront to democracy. And if the long term result of all this is the breakup of the UK, well so be it. Like many, perhaps most English people, I feel no attachment whatsoever to Northern Ireland, and I’m increasingly coming round to the opinion that it would be a relief to be rid of the Scots.

      1. To be fair I don’t think its really a Little England view, its just a reaction to the common Little Scotland view of the UK-secessionists.

        If people keep whingeing at you, you often end up whingeing back.

          1. Northern Ireland has been a bloody running sore for almost my entire life (I’m 58). In hindsight it was obviously a huge mistake to retain it as part of the UK When the rest of Ireland became independent. I have nothing against Ulster unionists as individuals (I know several), but I see them as Irish first and foremost, and only technically as fellow UK-citizens. If that patch of land was to become Dublin’s headache, rather than London’s, I doubt I’d be alone in breathing a sigh of relief.

            As for Scotland, I have a dog in this fight, as an Englishman who’s lived north of the border for nearly 30 years. I voted against Scottish Independence in 2014, and will vote against it again if the question is asked, but I believe in democracy. If a majority of Scots vote for Independence, then they should get it. I’d be sad if it happened, and it would cause me to relocate south of the border, but that’s my problem. I’m doubtful whether the current status quo is viable for much longer. A secessionist minority of 23-30% can be sustained, but if support for Independence approaches or reaches 50%, as it probably does now in Scotland, then I’, coming round to the view that it’s better for all parties to make the break. Otherwise the question never goes away and your national politics in locked in Northern Irish – mode, where nothing matters apart from the constitutional issue.

      2. I think we can afford to be more nuanced than that. Macmillan, Wilson and Heath all tried to join what was then the Common Market simply for the trade advantages. A referendum in the UK shortly after Heath succeeded confirmed the choice on those grounds. With the transformation into the EEC and then the EC there has been a move to European federation that is not at all the same thing as a customs union. The UK was very wise in retrospect to keep out of the Euro and it seems that many are skeptical about the wisdom of of further political unification. I know there certainly are the ‘little Englanders’ who prefer to have policies decided at home, and it seems that the refugee and immigration policies have been a tipping point in this regard. Rightly or wrongly with respect to those matters, it seems likely that there has been a net economic gain for the UK through membership, and there will be economic hardship for some time after leaving.
        What concerns me more, though, is whether that is a greater danger in the long run than a parliament overruling a referendum that all parties had agreed to be ruled by? In general, a referendum isn’t binding, but all major parties fought an election with the stance that they would stand by the result. Generally the UK has parliamentary sovereignty, rather than popular sovereignty (Fox and the speech to the electors of Bristol etc), but they agreed in this case that popular sovereignty would hold sway on this one matter. And it was hardly a fluke vote: 72% of eligible voters turned out and the Leave side won by a 3.8% margin. Now I may believe they were misguided to vote that way, but having all parties in a parliament willing to overturn a democratic vote they had promised to abide by is something more than an economic danger, it is a clear sign they don’t care too much for this democracy nonsense.
        And for those assailing the Queen for agreeing to Johnson’s request, a quick read of The English Constitution by Bagehot (easily found online) will clarify the role of a constitutional monarch. She absolutely cannot refuse, but would not be shy about giving her advice and warnings in private to her PM. She cannot take any public position appearing to favour one course over another. Some will say what’s the point of such a head of state? I can only point out it has worked rather well for a very long time, and it certainly seems the lesser of two evils when compared against certain presidential heads of state in office elsewhere in the world today…

        1. @chrism

          The 2016 Referendum legislated for by Parliament was advisory. That fact is not negated even if all parties said that they would implement the result. During the Referendum campaign, a widely distributed official Government pamphlet promised that the result would be implemented, and many people were thus given the impression that the Referendum was binding. But to change the Referendum status from advisory to binding would require parliamentary legislation, and that did not happen.

          Had Parliament been asked to legislate for a binding referendum, a supermajority would have been appropriate (which, for a 72% turnout, would be much higher than the 52% achieved by Leave voters), but a supermajority was declined because of the advisory status.

          Had Parliament been asked to legislate for a binding referendum, there would have been more reason not to disenfranchise groups likely to be most affected by the result (16..17-year-olds, EU27 nationals living in the UK, and British nationals who had lived abroad for more than 15 years).

          And had the Referendum been binding, surely more effort would have been made to educate the electorate, and the corrupt execution of the Referendum would have invalidated the result.

          1. Certainly all referenda in the UK have, thus far, had the legal status of being advisory. That’s not my point – that one cannot ignore the fact that all major parties fought a general election with campaign promises that they would honour the result. I’m of the opinion that promises are to be kept. Furthermore, how shall we know which party deserves our votes if what they say and what they do have no relationship? It’s all very well for Fox to say he owes the voters his judgement and not his obedience, but if he can give no honest account of what he intends or is likely to do under circumstances arising, how can they know their vote is wisely spent? In this case there were explicit promises that the result would be honoured, with no wiggle room. You and I may feel the voters got it wrong, but the entire point of democracy is that you and I cannot tell them what is best for them. They get to make their own mistakes and live with the consequences. This is imperfect, and frustrating to those who feel they know best, but a far better arrangement than letting those who feel they know best be in complete control. I would rather live in a democracy that makes mistakes and stumbles from one error to the next than in a perfectly run, efficient and optimised dictatorship. Wouldn’t you?

            1. Of course, democracy depends on honesty. There is insufficient deterrence against the making of dishonest promises. The UK political system almost encourages them. One of the deterrents is the MP’s Code of Conduct which is, in effect, a promise to act in the interests of the nation as a whole, but this evidently has little force at the moment.

              You write of explicit promises that the Referendum result would be honoured. The result was that, in an advisory referendum, ~52% of voters (~27% of the population) expressed a preference to leave, ~48% of voters (~25% of the population) expressed a preference for Remain, and the other half of the population did not express a preference. Honouring these data must involve honouring their significance. Concluding not only that the will of the people is to leave, but that also this constitutes a mandate/instruction/decision, dishonours the Referendum.

              1. @chrism, you write
                ”I see you are one of those who knows best.”

                I see you are one of those who has to resort to insult and the denigration of knowledge.

                The key document is House of Commons Briefing Paper 07212 informing MPs before they debated the EU Referendum Bill. Secton 5 reads

                ”Types of referendum

                This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.

                In contrast, the legislation which provided for the referendum held on AV in May 2011 would have implemented the new system of voting without further legislation, provided that the boundary changes also provided for in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituency Act 2011 were also implemented. In the event, there was a substantial majority against any change. The 1975 referendum was held after the re-negotiated terms of the UK’s EC membership had been agreed by all EC Member States and the terms set out in a command paper and agreed by both Houses.”

                The EU Referendum Act does not override the default advisory status. See

                (The advisory nature of the Referendum was further confirmed in the case brought by Gina Miller against the Government after one of the Government’s attempts to bypass Parliament.)

                The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament includes ”Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole; and a special duty to their constituents”. See

              2. I’ll restate the matter very simply. No referendum has had binding status in the UK, and 2016 referendum certainly did not. Agreed. All three major parties went into an election with a promise that they would honour the result.
                You persist in pointing out the referendum was not legally binding. I seem to be persisting in pointing out a promise was made. I believe promises are binding, even if there is no law that says you must keep them.
                This is not insult (I think it correct that you feel you know better than I do on the issue), nor do I denigrate your knowledge, only that you conveniently prefer the non-binding status to the promise made that it would be implemented. Now that might be a kind of back-handed insult, but you can’t deny the accuracy of the characterisation.

              3. @chrism, which one of the following two conflicting promises should be honoured:

                (a) We promise to act in the interests of the nation as a whole, or

                (b) If there are more votes for Leave than Remain in the Referendum, then we promise to ignore the legislation governing the Referendum as thoroughly debated and passed by Parliament and instead (1) ignore all those who were not allowed to vote or could note vote for any reason, (2) ignore all those who voted Remain, (3) ignore all legitimate reasons for not leaving the EU, (4) ignore any Referendum malpractice, and (5) implement the withdrawal of the UK from the EU however much harm it may cause?

                (The second promise is effectively what the Government promised in not so many words.)

              4. First point, they are not ignoring the law, which says the referendum was advisory; they chose to go further in assuming a voluntary obligation to implement it.
                Numbered points 1, 2 and 3 are routinely ignored in any vote or election at any level of government. We could go back to any general election, for example, and make it turn out the other way if we later counted the votes of those who didn’t turn out for whatever reason, plus those who were ineligible to vote. Point 4 – it seems to me there was malpractice on either side in terms of false claims made, but I’ve not heard that the vote was rigged/miscounted etc. That would be a serious allegation. Point 5 – yes, that’s exactly what was in the foolish promises made by the major parties in their election platforms.
                The whole silly business arose out of the cynical assumption that the proffered referendum couldn’t possibly be won by the Leave side. If Cameron or any other leader felt that could happen they would have not made a promise to be ruled by it, and most likely would not have raised the possibility of a referendum on the issue at all. The result has highlighted exactly how far removed the British political and media elites are from public opinion. That ought to have been a useful lesson for all concerned, if only all were willing to learn it rather than doubling down, stamping feet and declaring the other side wrong in ever louder terms.
                I’ll clarify again that I’m quite sure the UK has benefited from EU membership. I believe that most people in the UK would be happy to remain in the customs union they joined in 1973. I believe the reservations people have are about the growing inability to make decisions and set policy at home, with the creeping tendencies towards monetary and political union being unacceptable to a majority of Britons. If that had been addressed long ago we wouldn’t be in this mess today.

              5. @chrism

                ”they are not ignoring the law, which says the referendum was advisory; they chose to go further in assuming a voluntary obligation to implement it”

                That is not taking the legislation further; it is contradicting the legislation. Parliament was happy to pass legislation that allowed an advisory referendum, secure in the expectation that Parliament would have the opportunity to consider factors that the average voter might not consider. (MPs have privileged access to some data and are paid to spend adequate time weighing matters.) As I have indicated, MPs are obliged to consider those who were not allowed to vote…

                Did you know that the reason 16..17-year-olds were not franchised (even though they were in the referendum on the independence of Scotland) was cost. That was acceptable in an advisory referendum – account could be taken of it when Parliament properly debated whether the UK should leave the EU. That debate has never happened because the Referendum was claimed to be binding.

                ”Numbered points 1, 2 and 3 are routinely ignored in any vote or election at any level of government. We could go back to any general election, for example, and make it turn out the other way if we later counted the votes of those who didn’t turn out for whatever reason, plus those who were ineligible to vote.”

                Regarding points (1) and (2), general elections are binding and the crude estimate is made that the whole population would have voted in the same ratio as those who did vote. Regarding point (3), all manifesto promises requiring legislation must be approved by the whole of Parliament (if the Government tries to implement them). As I said, Parliament have never properly debated whether the UK should leave the EU.

                I think much of the problem stems from the public’s unfamiliarity with advisory votes.

                ”Point 4 – it seems to me there was malpractice on either side in terms of false claims made, but I’ve not heard that the vote was rigged/miscounted etc. That would be a serious allegation.”

                If false claims were considered malpractice (which I think they ought to be), then it does not matter which side was to blame, it should be possible to invalidate the vote if necessary. Malpractice due to buying votes (overspending by campaigners) did occur, and I think that I am correct in saying that this would have invalidated the Referendum had it been binding (but in court, the Referendum mysteriously temporarily resumed its advisory status!).

                We are in agreement on point (5), and I mostly agree with your analysis in the second half of your comment.

              6. “”they are not ignoring the law, which says the referendum was advisory; they chose to go further in assuming a voluntary obligation to implement it”

                That is not taking the legislation further; it is contradicting the legislation.”

                Maybe we progress. If legislation about a referendum is permissive, then to voluntarily assume an obligation to obey the result is not to ignore the law, but to state something about how you will behave in the light of the result. This accepts the legislation about the result (advisory) and then goes the next step. Nothing wrong, illicit, illegal, or dishonest in that.

    1. None of this would have been necessary if Parliament had not spent the last 3 years betraying and refusing to implement the democratically expressed will of the people to leave the EU.

      We would have left the EU months ago if it wasn’t for the party within the Tory party, the ERG, voting against the Withdrawal Agreement. So in this sense I agree with you: Leavers in Parliament have betrayed the democratically expressed will of the people to leave the EU.

      And if the long term result of all this is the breakup of the UK, well so be it.

      This also appears to be the view of many people who support the Conservative and *Unionist* Party, which suggests a name change is in order at least! But would the referendum result have been the same if the break-up of the Union and the subjugation of Parliament had been advertised as among the benefits of leaving? I doubt it somehow. This is why many Remainers question the legitimacy of this entirely misconceived project.

      1. Yes to this, absolutely.

        I voted Remain, and I was disconcerted at the result. But I was prepared to accept the verdict of the electorate (unlike Farage, who said before the referendum that if the outcome was a marginal vote for Remain, he would agitate for a second vote).

        What the Leavers promised us all was a great deal with Europe, and a range of trade deals with everyone else. They have sold us a pup. We have none of this: on the contrary, we are faced with a catastrophic no-deal outcome that nobody, but nobody, voted for.

        I therefore withdraw my acquiescence in the result of the referendum. I want another say. I doubt we will get another referendum, the way the Parliamentary arithmetic is stacking up. So another election it will have to be; and there has to be a means of postponing Brexit until after it takes place. Surely that must be one option that MPs need to focus on over the next few days.

    2. I’m English and I profoundly disagree with this view. England is not the imperial power of the past. We have to live in the modern world and and that means we need allies. Leaving the EU is a catastrophe. Having Scotland secede would also be a catastrophe for both countries.

      There is almost certainly a majority against leaving the EU now. We also know that it’s going to be really bad which we didn’t when the referendum was taken. Democracy is not a vote, it’s a process. Events have overtaken the 2016 referendum and only followers of the cult of Brexit won’t accept that.

          1. But if you could wave a magic wand and separate the two readily, would Scottish independence be a disaster? If so, why?

            If not, then it’s only the process of getting there that is a problem.

            There’s been recent European experience with the break up of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and the independence of the Baltic states, and the upshot seems to be that people are happier as a result.

            I’m not convinced by the “big is best” mindset. Many of the happiest and most prosperous countries with the best qualify of life are fairly small (Iceland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, etc). Canada seems to me (as an outsider) a happier place than the US currently.

            1. Canada is not that happy. Common mistake. It also not that small compared to the countries mentioned, just a relatively small population spread across the second largest country on the planet.
              I live currently in Nova Scotia which is reasonably happy.
              I have lived for periods in all of the countries you mention and of them all i found Norway the most appealing but this was some time ago and my Norwegian friends tell me it is now not the same country I remember.
              Everything changes, even the UK.

              1. “Canada is not that happy.”
                Could we have some evidence (presumably reliable statistical facts) as to exactly what you claim and the truth of it?

                “ Norwegian friends tell me it is now not the same country..”
                Even more vague–clearly Norway is much more wealthy now than even a few decades ago, with an oil-generated fund amounting to a few hundred thousand CDN$ for every person living there. Is it perhaps just a few oil executives who cannot do an ‘Alberta/Texas’ theft from the citizens, or even a ‘Nigeria/Venezuela’, who are now so unhappy? Or is it the comparatively rare tabloid-induced xenophobe there who, unhappy with immigration, dislikes that (rather minor, statistically) change?

                Anyway, a bit more precision in both cases would hopefully rescue your comment from approximately zero value (to me at least).

              1. Yes but that’s not really about happiness. Separation seems to have died down now and it has been pretty much quiet for a couple of decades. I think this is due to the realities that separatist governments really wrecked the Quebec economy. However, there is a surge of populism in Quebec so we’ll see what that brings. Canada is also going to have a Federal election in the Fall and it could all go to hell then too.

    3. Agreed and let us not forget that parliament voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, 449 to 144 against if memory serves me correctly.
      The noise is all coming from those who do not wish to abide by the results of the referendum and wish to remain part of the EU.
      I have feelings regarding this situation but I respect the result of the peoples vote.
      I would respect the result if it indicated remaining in the EU.
      There are many things that I disagree with and opinions are valid but this tiresome continuing complaining serves no purpose other than to inflame the situation.
      Let us also not forget recent events when the previous President of the USA visited the UK and felt it was quite correct to attempt to influence events, really?
      Much of the verbiage herein is just opinion and much of it ill founded but entitled to be spent nonetheless.
      The comment “little England” depressing looking from the outside is just that, the outside.

      1. I don’t respect the referendum result in the least. It’s more than three years since it was run, in a climate of extreme naivety as to the respective outcomes. Whilst Cameron foolishly promised to honour the result, the fact is that the result was only advisory. Consideration of the implications has eaten away at our democracy during which time we’ve discovered that leaving isn’t easy, despite the promises, that coming to a deal with Europe is nearly impossible, despite the promises, that economic and political disaster stare us in the face, despite the promises.

        So quite frankly I couldn’t care less what the result of the referendum was. It, at least, needs to be rerun.

          1. It’s not a question of repeating until getting a particular result, it’s that a vote on which the issues are so unclear isn’t democracy.

          2. Well, isn’t that exactly what the Brexiteers did?
            A non-binding referendum, won by a slight majority, accompanied by a flood of blatant lies, should decide such a monumental move?
            I think it is no more than reasonable that, now that the options and consequences have become (somewhat) clearer, to have another referendum.

        1. … a climate of extreme naivety as to the respective outcomes.

          That seems quite arrogant, to assume that the only possible explanation for a Leave vote is naiveté.

  9. What is going on in the UK, Brazil and the US are indicators of the fragility of democracy. Most people, regardless of political ideology, will support it only to the extent they perceive that it benefits them. They view it as an abstraction that can easily be discarded if something better comes along, even if the replacement system is authoritarian. True democracy is a recent phenomenon in human history; it has existed only for a few centuries in a few countries. It may turn out to be ephemeral and human government will then exist everywhere under a dictatorship of one sort or another. If this should be the case, how would it affect the thesis that the world is getting better? I hope we don’t have to find out.

    1. If you read Pinker’s recent books, and put some credence in statistical evidence, your pessimism on these matters will decrease considerably.

  10. If anyone here wonders why I comment a lot on American politics…well it’s because American politics is light relief by comparison with what’s going on here in the UK. I’m sure you don’t feel the same over there, and I’m not attempting to minimise the threat posed by Trump at all. I think he really is that dangerous.

    But you American centrists, liberals, moderates at least have a semblance of hope on the horizon in the form of a mobilised, promising Democratic campaign for 2020. We have no hope as far I can see.

    Here’s the link again to this petition, meagre recourse as it is:

    1. Saul, I would like your take on British politics. Who and why have people in the UK supported the likes of Johnson? Are they like the Trumpists in the US – people who have been conned to believe that Trump represents some sort of savior from their perceived economic and social decline or is there some other dynamic at play? To put it another way: what is Johnson’s appeal and why has the Conservative Party supported him?

      1. This may not be well-known to USers, but Johnson first became well-known by appearing on the satirical panel show Have I Got News For You (while still a journo) and playing (very well) the role of amiable buffoon.

        He seems to have kept this public persona going as a media-friendly and on-the-surface-likeable politician.

        It’s not clear whether the people who actually know him like him or trust him, but the Tories seem to have decided that his media-friendliness makes him their least bad option at present.

        Johnson or Corbyn. Christ on a bike. Literally.

      2. The dynamic is simply that many British people want a say on EU policies. Since the joining referendum back in 1975 they’ve never had that — since both major political parties, and all subsequent governments, have always been pro-EU. For example there has never been democratic consent via referendums for a succession of EU treaties.

        Now, if the combination of the EU and/or UK governments had asked the people for consent, and/or allowed greater flexibility for countries to opt in or out of policies, then likely everyone would be content.

        Since this has never been allowed, the people decided (narrowly) to give a bloody-minded “ok, then, we’ll leave” verdict.

        It’s notable that, since that vote, the EU has shown no interest at all in offering any flexible relationship that might lead to an “ok then, in that case we’ll stay” attitude.

        The reason we’re where we are is that the only options on offer seem to be “no deal Brexit” or full-blown “ever closer union” membership.

        1. I can understand why many British people did like the country’s membership in the EU (rightly or wrongly), but why Johnson? Is Britain so bereft of sober, serious politicians that Johnson was the only alternative?

        2. Again let us not forget that the “Common Market “ of the 1970s has no resemblance to the EU of the present. The people were never consulted by any government regarding all of the subsequent changes to the original membership.

          1. Bereft of sober serious politicians. For example perhaps John Major the original “grey” man the unelected usurper of Margaret Thatcher now a troublesome noise in the background, or perhaps Tony Blair complete with insincere smile and sweaty armpits and his unelected successor Gordon Brown and his peculiar speech impediment, or maybe Theresa May the original “grey woman” responsible for much of this situation. Yes indeed msny to choose from. Not at all unlike the USA really.

          2. “The people were never consulted by any government regarding all of the subsequent changes to the original membership.”

            So I presume that after we leave you’ll be calling for regular democratic ‘consultations’ on membership of the EU? In the event that there are ‘changes’ to the membership terms?

            Or does it only go one way? Hmm.

        3. “A situation going back to 1707 (Act of Union with Scotland) and 1922 (creation of Northern Ireland) will have been ripped up by the Brexiteers”.

          Don’t have a problem with either of these happening. Irish unification and complete independence is long, long overdue. As to Scottish independence, if the Scots want it why should they not have it?

          As for parliament, they have been playing with this Brexit ball for three years and have refused to come up with a good alternative to ‘no exit brexit’. Why all the hand wringing now? This is all theatre to allow the entrenched ‘remain’ minority to prevent the UK from leaving at all despite the expressed will of the majority of the people.

        4. Just a small point. The 1st referendum in 1975 wasn’t to join, we were already members. The arguments both for and against were the same in 1975 and 2016.

      3. Johnson doesn’t have anything like the appeal of Trump, who is a genuine representative of his supporters – in the sense that he genuinely resents the same people his supporters resent, and has an instinctive understanding of how his supporters think.
        Trump supporters recognise that he’s one of them intellectually, emotionally and culturally, even if he lives in a gold tower.

        Johnson OTOH is absolutely nothing like the average Leaver, has nothing in common with them whatsoever, and has spent his career talking past them.

        He has been seen as a socially-liberal centre-right Europhile his entire career, so there’s no reason for Leavers to trust him. And they don’t, I don’t think.
        It’s a transactional relationship, but laced with the same kind of tribal support that anyone who says he’s ‘on our side’ gets from Leavers.


        So think of all those furious Leavers, boiling with unfocused rage for three years while Theresa May desperately tried not to make it worse, desperately tried not to set them off.

        …And then think of someone coming along – it doesn’t matter who it is – and giving those Leavers the kind of power-fantasy they’ve dreamt about. A chance to ram Brexit home in the most satisfyingly extreme way – pure catharsis.
        That someone happened to be Boris but it really could’ve been anyone, so long as they were willing to smash the British political system into pieces.

        The fact that Leavers support him has nothing to do with his leadership qualities, his intellect, his qualifications – it’s purely about how far he’s willing to go for Brexiteers, and because he’s a borderline psychopath he’s willing to go very far indeed.

        1. As an outsider, it appears from the comments that Britain is as bitterly divided as the US. I’m not sure that anything good can from all of this, particularly for democracy.

          1. It’s not fun. Even being in this comment section puts me in a really ugly mood. I think I’m going to duck out of this before I say something I regret.

          2. Britain is indeed bitterly divided, but only on one issue (admittedly a major one, namely Brexit).

            The US (it seems as an outsider) is bitterly divided on very many issues.

        2. Did you actually intend ‘Europhobe’ there, rather than “Europhile”? Maybe my memory of Boris’ flippsnt newspaper columns is faulty??

            1. From wiki

              “Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (/ˈfɛfəl/[5]; born 19 June 1964) …. began his career in journalism at The Times but was dismissed for falsifying a quotation. He later became The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, with –>his articles exerting a strong influence on growing Eurosceptic sentiment among the British right wing<–."

              Has wiki been manipulated into a lie here?

              Oddly enoough, he was (unfortunately?) conceived on the very day I first arrived in England for an initial stay of 3 years–if you take 9 months pregnancy as exactly correct.

              1. Okay, I see what you mean. And apologies for the blunt reply, I wrongly assumed you were posting in bad faith.

                I didn’t mean ‘Europhile’ in quite the prescriptive way it’s sometimes used. I meant that he has always been quite open about his connections(familial and otherwise) to Europe and has always been part of that political milieu.

                His position on the EU has been occasionally critical, but the Tories are a generally Eurosceptic(in the constrained, specifically political sense of the word) party and in their ranks he has always been seen as one of the most pro-Europe Tories out there.
                He has always been positive, and outspokenly so, about our relationship with Europe and the benefits of immigration from the continent. He was never an actual Eurosceptic, in the sense that he ever called for us to leave the EU, that’s for sure, so the quote is misleading to that extent. At most you could say he was occasionally critical of the EU.

                So he was against leaving the EU, until suddenly he wasn’t, when the Brexit campaign came around.

                Therefore the accusations of hypocrisy and intellectual lability are accurate. Really this is a good example of the kind of person he is: psychotically opportunistic. In his ability to do the exact opposite of what he vowed never to do thirty seconds earlier he puts Donald Trump to shame.

        3. Agreed. Boris seems far from the conventional or tRumpian right wing in many ways. Slamming Brazil over burning their rainforests, or slamming the anti-vaxxers, for example.

          It’s just unfortunate that he seems to have grabbed onto Brexit as his banner to wave at the moment. And he seems to be tone-deaf to democratic niceties.

          I don’t think he’s done anything unconstitutional or illegal, just very unwise.


    2. It is funny though, how that horizon is always over the next horizon. I do not see the end of Trump as any fancy cure for what is wrong with our govt. system and frankly most of the fixes needed, no one wants to know about. Now the idea that Britain may be out on it’s ass regarding the EU can be fixed at some point. Damage will and is being done but the being out may quickly lead to the reality that they need to be in.

      We have a madman over here enjoying trade war with everyone and thinks it is good. Just the fact that the rules allowed him to use “emergency powers” to start these tariff wars shows how utterly stupid our congress is. So we have ignorance beyond belief in the executive and the congress so what is going to save us?

  11. “A situation going back to 1707 (Act of Union with Scotland) and 1922 (creation of Northern Ireland) will have been ripped up by the Brexiteers”.

    Don’t have a problem with either of these happening. Irish unification and complete independence is long, long overdue. As to Scottish independence, if the Scots want it why should they not have it?

    As for parliament, they have been playing with this Brexit ball for three years and have refused to come up with a good alternative to ‘no exit brexit’. Why all the hand wringing now? This is all theatre to allow the entrenched ‘remain’ minority to prevent the UK from leaving at all despite the expressed will of the majority of the people.

    1. Quite so. The dedicated Remainers have pulled a number of arguably undemocratic stunts to try and overturn the results of the Referendum and are now hysterically squealing when Boris uses a constitutionally sound means to limit their sabotage.

      All this talk of a ‘coup’, dictatorship, or unconstitutional activity is either confected outrage or a serious lack of self-awareness.

      1. No, it’s a coup. And your rhetoric demonstrates that you very obviously couldn’t care less about ‘democracy’. All that posturing about the rule of law and parliament vanishes when the chance to cut a corner comes along.

        Say what you like, but don’t pretend you care about democracy, not when you’re shaking your pompoms for something as rancidly dishonest and underhanded as this.

        1. I need add nothing to my statement… If you choose to go down the route of duelling dictionaries I’d offer:

          Coup: a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.

          Not quite the same thing as a determined Prime Minister using constitutional means to press ahead with the promises made to the Referendate and the Electorate.

          1. From Webster:

            Definition of coup d’état

            : a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics;
            especially : the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group

          2. …Then by that definition of what’s acceptable, a majority of Remain politicians could have junked the whole Brexit vote, since it was simply advisory.

            Sound like the definition of a coup yet? Or, again, does it only work one way?

      2. I know very little about the implications of Brexit and care even less, but your summary has the ring of truth about it. From an outside, no-axe-to-grind viewpoint, that’s definitely what it looks like: three years trying desperately to thwart the will of the people.

        1. three years trying desperately to thwart the will of the people.

          No, it really hasn’t been.

          The last three years has been desperately difficult simply because the Leave vote has presented the UK government with the task of reconciling two contradictory positions: remove the UK from the EU – in other words, step outside of the borders of the EU – while retaining no meaningful border on the island of Ireland. If it wasn’t for the Good Friday Agreement we would have left the EU by now.

          The simple way to reconcile this paradox would be to remain regulatory-aligned with the EU without being a member. That is not Brexit enough for many, so it appears not to be an option. Anything else, though, has to resolve the paradox above, and nothing (other than a backstop) has been proposed that does resolve it.

    2. “Remain minority”: How exactly do you know it’s a minority at this point? Are you just basing that statement on a referendum that occurred >3 years ago?

      The referendum was poorly designed since there are many ways to leave the EU, and I think it’s safe to assume not all Leavers had the same process in mind. How is it any more democratic to make people who may have had a change in heart or realized they were mistaken stick by a decision they made over 1000 days ago?

      1. “How exactly do you know it’s a minority at this point?”

        He doesn’t. It’s called bluffing, and Leavers are often very good at it.

        Most signs point to it being a majority by now, incidentally.

      2. “How is it any more democratic to make people who may have had a change in heart or realized they were mistaken stick by a decision they made over 1000 days ago?”

        This sounds like a mother in a department store trying to convince her teenage son that he doesn’t really want the clothes that he’s picked out. Her ace in the hole is that if she can just stall long enough her son will have either outgrown the clothes or no longer want them.

  12. Sorry about posting twice;I have no explanation for it.

    @Coel: you are spot on. I would add that where rare referenda did occur, as in Netherlands and Ireland, the rejected EU legislation was just taken back into the shop and reworked a bit, then trotted back out as either a done deal or requiring a second referendum (Ireland vs Treaty of Lisbon for example) with it made clear to the peasants that they had voted wrong the first time and needed to correct that mistake.

    The loss of sovereignty and the obeisance to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels was not something that the people of EU countries were consulted about. And is not something that remainers seem to care about. We’ll see how it goes with Hungary, Italy, Chechia, Poland, Netherlands and maybe even Germany itself. Maybe more exits in future.

    1. Again, since this absurd, faux-sincere argument has been posted elsewhere BTL:

      …you will then, on principle, be supporting regular consultations on EU membership in the future after we leave will you?

      1. If we left and then, after a few years or more, the EU offered a serious proposal about rejoining that attracted widespread support then, yes, I’d be happy for a referendum on it.

        1. Then I think you’re in a minority among Leavers. Still, I’d like to carry you on my shoulders down the street, that’s how pathetically grateful I am for the slightest demonstration of goodwill.

    2. Obeissance to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels?

      Frankly, this is nonsense.

      Decisions in the EU are ultimately made by the European Council (essentially the member state governments, in a weighted vote, often with unanimity requirement) and the European Parliament. The European Commission is the executive, whose composition has to be approved by the European Parliament.

  13. The role of the Queen in all of this has somewhat undermined the argument that she acts as the protector of the constitution. Notwithstanding this, I do think that there’s a legitimate role for the monarchy in our democracy, but it’s much more complex than these events suggest.

    However, although the monarch has no right to do other than follow the advice of the Prime Minister, it’s still possible to challenge the advice/instructions that the PM offers the monarch, and that is presently with the courts.

    In many ways, and with the benefit of hindsight, this whole situation was only ever going to go to the wire. There have been far too many competing opinions and plans that didn’t individually have sufficient support to counter a simple ‘leave without a deal’ default. Now it’s up to politicians with a conscience to try and avert this crisis, not that I’m especially hopeful.

  14. Why all these fears of a “no deal” Brexit? After Britain crashes out ofthe EU, it will still have its Special Relationship with the USA, won’t it? This will entitle it to a Trump hotel in London, and a promise that future US tariffs on foreign-made automobiles will not be imposed on Aston Martin, Bentley, or Rolls Royce. Moreover, when Scotland secedes from the UK to join the EU, quickly followed by Gibraltar and London, the English heartland can cement its Special Relationship by applying to become a US protectorate, like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

    1. I would give a witty, pithy answer but I’m busy smashing myself over the head with a two by four. That’s what we Brits do now for fun don’t you know.

  15. “More significantly, because of the nature of the UK parliament, it is hard to see how this can be stopped by parliament or the courts. The Queen decides when parliament sits, doing what the government (i.e., the PM) says. As far as I can tell, what happened yesterday was entirely legal.”

    I’d like to understand this better. In the US, if the executive branch tries to do something, it can be challenged in the courts and, if the court thinks the challenge may be legitimate, it can hand down an injunction against the executive branch’s action until the case is decided.

    Is the monarch the reason this can’t be done in the UK? Because the monarch ultimately decides whether or not the PM’s actions are allowed?

    This does put the Queen in quite a bind. For many decades now, the monarch has only supposed to be a figurehead, never going against or influencing the government. Should the Queen really break this rule and restore the monarch to the position of political arbiter? That seems like a dangerous new precedent to supersede the current one (which superseded the older one, which was what the new one would be and…oy vay). If what Johnson has done is, in fact, legal, then what is the beef? Not that I agree with Johnson.

    1. The actions of the Queen in endorsing Johnson’s advice/instructions cannot be challenged, but the courts can consider whether the advice the PM gives the Queen is legally valid, and this is currently in the courts. I think it is unlikely such actions will succeed. There is no doubt that Johnson, as PM, is the proper person to speak to the Queen, that he represents, despite views to the contrary, a majority in Parliament, and that his actions appear constitutional. The question for the courts to answer, therefore, is whether the PM has exceeded his political mandate, because the claim refers, inter alía, to the political impact of the issues to be discussed. Well almost everything Parliament discusses is political so it’s hard to see courts being other than reluctant to deliver a decision on the basis of the degree of politicisation.

      1. Yes, from that explanation, it sounds like the courts are in a similar situation as the Queen. To make a political rather than legal decision would be very strange and perhaps also set a dangerous precedent.

      2. The claim that Johnson “represents a majority in parliament” is doubtful. He has a nominal majority of 1 – including the votes of the DUP!- but there are many in his party who don’t support his approach to Brexit. Which way they would go in a vote of confidence remains to be seen.

    2. In the US, if the executive branch tries to do something, it can be challenged in the courts and, if the court thinks the challenge may be legitimate, it can hand down an injunction against the executive branch’s action until the case is decided.

      True enough as far as it goes, BJ, but it is a fundamental tenet of constitutional justiciability that US courts will not involve themselves in so-called “political questions.”

      1. Yep, I get that. I was unclear on whether this was merely a political issue, as everyone keeps calling it a “constitutional crisis.”

        1. Which one you think it is depends very much on your side in the Brexit debate. As one of Johnson’s own MPs pointed out, if the boot was on the other foot and it was Jeremy Corbyn behind the prorogation of parliament the very people saying the move is constitutional now would be taking the opposite view.

        2. Questions regarding “justiciability” (like the “political question” doctrine, the “case or controversy” doctrine, “standing,” and “ripeness and mootness”) are pretty rarefied legal air. They’re primarily the province of constitutional scholars, federal judges, and lawyers in white-shoe Washington, DC, firms that do a lot of government work.

          I took Federal Jurisdiction in law school, and clerked for a federal judge (where the issues came up from time-to-time) but haven’t dealt with them since, so am by no means an expert in the field.

          1. Can you give me some examples of what you’re talking about? Maybe cases that have been taken up by the courts but one could argue shouldn’t have been based on these doctrines? I’d like to understand this better. Thanks.

            1. The landmark redistricting case of Baker v. Carr (1962) is one. Compare Justice Brennan’s majority opinion with Justice Frankfurter’s dissent. Here’s an in-depth program C-SPAN did on it.

              Nixon v. US (1993), in which the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to review a US senate impeachment trial is another. (The Nixon involved in that case was federal district court judge Walter Nixon, not former president Dick.)

  16. This is what happens when the only opposition to the far right is the far left. They share enough of the same agenda to want to ride the coattails of the far right to power, which is exactly what the arch Brexiter Corbyn is trying to do.

    Horrifyingly, I don’t see any way out of this for the UK. Worst of all, the bigger the protests, the more complete and more demoralising its failure will be.

    1. I don’t know what’s put you in such an optimistic frame of mind. It’s all much worse than that.

      1. Well, if you spend a few decades in Germany the idea of the left thinking outsmart the right by becoming even more extreme always lightens the mood.

    2. Britain hardly has any far left – politicians or activists. There are a lot of moderate left-wingers – Corbyn and his associates – who would be considered ultra-extreme left wing in America. But that’s America’s problem, not ours. And it doesn’t make them any more than pale pink on the grander scale of politics.
      Fortunately, this utter debacle is likely to lead to the left gaining considerably while the pale-blue right indulge in mutual disembowelment. Where’s that Narwhal toy ? – the thing for our times.

  17. The nation states within the EU have pooled sovereignty in many, many areas within the union.

    I don’t think it’s fair to write off people who disagree with this as ‘far right’ or ‘stupid’.

    If a free trade organisation in North America required the US to give up the supremacy of US Law, cede control over its borders, for example, would people be reasonable to have concerns?

    1. Forgive my ignorance, but are there many agitators within the United States for secession? A lot of Americans, especially right wing ones, seem to approve of Brexit, so I presume they also campaign for an independent Texas, Arkansas etc, on similar grounds?

  18. It seems like two things could happen to make this situation better.

    The British could decide that no-deal-brexit is not acceptable, and insist on working out the process before proceeding with it, however long that takes.

    The EU could be a more accommodating to the magnitude of the task, and not set such strict deadlines and requirements. Stability is more important than schedules.

    If it takes six more months, or longer, isn’t that better than allowing no-deal-brexit to occur, which could turn out badly for everyone?

    1. “If it takes six more months, or longer, isn’t that better …”

      More time won’t help, there’s been nearly 3 years already.

      There is a deadlock: the EU do not want to offer any sort of reasonable deal, they want to punish Brexit as a way of keeping the other nations in line (the deal as offered was described by the Greek foreign minister, so a *pro*-EU person, as “the sort of deal a nation signs after being defeated at war”), which is why it did not get approval from Parliament.

      I predicted over two years ago, when the EU outlined its negotiating stance, that their stance was so unsympathetic to Britain that the only possible outcomes would be no-deal Brexit or cancelling Brexit.

      Another year of stalemate would not achieve anything.

      1. The only real sticking point is the so-called “Irish backstop”. Both sides of the Brexit negotiations are agreed that there can be no “hard border” (infrastructure and customs checkpoints etc.) on the island of Ireland.

        The Withdrawal Agreement includes a proposal that attempts to achieve this, and the EU and Theresa May both agreed to it. As did Boris Johnson, and the rest of May’s cabinet, at the infamous Chequers meeting, before Johnson calculated a day or two later that resigning as Foreign Secretary and joining the Tory party’s hardline Brexiters was a better career move. He did so only after David Davis, the Brexit Secretary in charge of the negotiations, decided to resign in protest at the deal he himself had been instrumental in achieving. You just couldn’t make this stuff up!

        The EU has been – and continues to be – open to realistic alternative mechanisms for the Irish / UK border. The UK has not suggested any that are currently achievable. Understandably, the EU is insistent on retaining control of its border. After all, would a post-Brexit UK be willing to hand over control of the border to the EU? Of course not.

        1. Oops, I conflated the UK government’s Chequers agreement and the eventual joint EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement (and its accompanying political declaration). Davis and Johnson both backed the Chequers proposal before resigning shortly afterwards. The Withdrawal Agreement’s joint political declaration included the key aspirations of the Chequers plan. The UK parliament has failed to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement on three occasions.

      2. “Another year of stalemate would not achieve anything.”

        Assuming that no-deal brexit will be very harmful, it would be another year of having a functional economy in Britain. Maybe the no-deal brexit will not be that bad, but it sure sounds like a disaster to me.

        To my eyes it seems like the position should be the status quo until an organized exit can be implemented. If they just stop being in the EU, with no plan, it will be chaos.

      3. the EU do not want to offer any sort of reasonable deal

        The problem is that of squaring the circle. The UK’s treaty obligations, freely entered into, as parts of the Good Friday Agreement prohibit having a border between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. That can only be changed by mutual agreement between the governments of Britain and Ireland, and there is no reason what so ever for the Irish to agree to that.
        The Irish are not going to leave the EU. They’re not going to leave the Single Market. They’re not going to leave the EU Customs Union. They have no interest in these things. That’s Britain’s problem alone.
        There is no credible reason for the Irish to wish to help Britain in it’s bout of communal insanity. Even proposing that would probably be political suicide for any Irish politician.

        So, if the UK leaves, the border is going to have to be within Ulster, between Ulster and the rest of the UK, or just possibly, along Hadrian’s Wall with Scotland and Ulster remaining in Europe.

        1. Or the UK can simply not put up a hard border in Ireland. After all, the Brexiters want free trade, so would readily have an open border. They then simply say to the EU, if *you* want to restrict trade and if *you* want to police the border, then that’s up to you, your problem.

          1. And since the EU have more than Ireland to worry about, they’ll do that rather than cast Ireland adrift. But the costs would be taken from British trade by some route.

            1. If the *EU* put up a hard border in Ireland then the UK has not violated the Good Friday agreement. If anyone has it would be the RoI.

  19. I was born in England, so I feel free to comment on this even though I am not a citizen of the UK. IMO, the referendum process was hopelessly flawed from the beginning, thanks to Cameron. If the UK wanted to leave the EU, the UK government should have negotiated the terms BEFORE the referendum and then put a concrete proposal before the people to validate. Instead, for political reasons, Cameron put a general question referendum before voters who had little or no information about the terms of leaving and the consequences of their vote. (Cameron thought Remain would win on the general question and that would shut up the Brexit crowd in his party.) This open general question on whether to leave the EU opened the doors to the outright lies and deceit that the Leave proponents used to sway an uninformed public. They exploited ignorance and prejudice. For this reason, the 2016 referendum result is invalid and another is needed on a question as to whether to leave under specific terms.

    1. You seem to be suggesting that they put the horse before the cart. That is not the way we do things in the 21st century. 🙂

    2. “If the UK wanted to leave the EU, the UK government should have negotiated the terms BEFORE the referendum and then put a concrete proposal before the people to validate.”

      The UK asked to do this before triggering Article 50, but the EU refused to discuss it.

        1. Yes, but before Article 50 was triggered. The EU refused to even discuss anything until the UK had formally declared that it was leaving.

          1. The UK had already had a vote on Brexit and its PMs had been campaigning for months that they would uphold the results of the vote.

            1) Why shouldn’t the EU have refused to discuss anything until the UK had formally declared that it was leaving? Who treated who badly here?

            2) If, as the OP of this subthread wrote, the UK had approached the EU before having a vote on the matter things may have been different. Though we will never know. If it had been discovered beforehand that the EU was going to be shitty about Brexit at the least the UK would have been better informed when it came to a vote.

            1. I think the EU would have shown just as little interest in a discussion prior to the referendum as it did in a discussion prior to Article 50.

    3. … outright lies and deceit that the Leave proponents used to sway an uninformed public.


      What I do hear now is a lot of Chicken Little prognostication from Remainers — most often accompanied by lamentation over the childlike ignorance of the other 52% of the adult population.

        1. You link to a tendentious and quite puerile editorial. Skimming it, I found no concrete descriptions of ‘brexit lies’.

          But never mind — you can avoid even a bullet-point summary your assertion by simply disparaging me as a “right wing troll”. And by ‘right wing’ I presume you mean ‘does not adhere 100% to leftist dogma’, and by ‘troll’, ‘openly voices dissent to said leftist dogma’.

          What a cheap cop out. I expected both a better intellectual effort and slightly less petulance.

  20. Leave provided a great lesson on how to successfully campaign. Early on, they branded the Remainer’s warnings a “Project Fear”, disarming their effect. They told big lies, and got away with it (for now). Remarkably, over the years, they managed to alter the expectations from winning something (as promised at the referendum) down to now merely “coping” (Boris Johnson) with the aftermath. Well, there will be “adequate food”.

    Another great tactic was to quickly seize on the tiny majority of +2% and massively inflating this 52% as the “Will of the People” — that was really something! Especially as the Brexiters are no majority at all: they only agreed on leaving the EU, but were told they would be like countries like Switzerland or Norway, still broadly associated with the EU. Brexiters had wildly different ideas about what should happen next. If some concrete question would have been asked, they would be a smaller minority for various scenarios. But in politics, it will be one of those scenarios. This “Will of the People” turns out to be the biggest lie of them all.

    It was astonishing to see how even apparently intelligent people could be won over with one idea, taken in on to a ride downhill, and now they are still committed, but to a totally different, more gloomy outlook. Brexiters are now bitter people who just want “out”, no matter what.

    And even though I would have vastly preferred the UK to remain, I now think the same as I do for the USA. We can either have good judgment guide the way, and when that fails, reality tends to bite. That would be the moment to understand that believing lies is not for free. Somebody is going to pay for it, as the Brits are about to find out.

    I guess Scotland will rejoin on its own, as current polls indicate. But before, Britains will enjoy their chlorinated chickens, and the friends of Nigel Farrage (Taenia solium) will privatise.

    1. Leave provided a great lesson on how to successfully campaign.

      Several of those politicians are under investigation by the police for crimes committed in the campaigning. Some of those under investigation are working out of Downing St.

  21. There is nothing in either of those posts that supports either of your original claims, particularly the “50 different IDs” part.

    And unless you want us to dismiss evidence accrued online about the numbers of Leave supporters for exactly the same reasons(because exactly the same structural weaknesses would apply in those cases too) then your initial claim that the petition is meaningless is incorrect.

  22. So let me get this straight. In this case the supporters of democracy are those who want to nullify the result of a popular election to leave the European Union because they don’t agree with it, and the fascists are those who insist that the results of the election be respected, right? Democracy is a wonderful thing. I guess I’ll never really understand it.

    1. The remain side has been putting up with this chaos for three years, waiting on someone to deliver a Brexit that might be some kind of acceptable compromise for more than just the third of the country who voted Leave. The idea that Remain politicians have beet trying to stymie the result is bullshit. They’ve been sat on the sidelines watching the winners fuck things up over and over again. Because fundamentally it’s an impossible result that makes no sense and is undeliverable.

      And now the winning side has said ‘fuck oversight, fuck representative democracy, we are going to force the most extreme version of Brexit through, the version that the country was EXPLICITLY PROMISED wouldn’t happen, by simply bypassing politicians altogether.’ Those politicians being bypassed are MY representatives. They are my mother’s and my sisters’ and my dad’s and my friends’. Those representatives are the only voices the remain side have. They are the only voices cautious Leave voters have.

      It is an utterly insane precedent to set and will almost certainly lead to the cracking up of Great Britain.

      Do you understand why remainers like myself, and every single person I know, all of whom have been saying they accept the result and accept that Brexit is inevitable, are ever-so-slightly pissed off at this? If you don’t then maybe your final sentence was right.

      1. +1. Brexiters have a way to blame somebody else, preferably the EU, who is of course secretly behind the utter incompetence in the Tory party.

      2. The idea that Remain politicians have beet trying to stymie the result is bullshit. They’ve been sat on the sidelines watching the winners fuck things up over and over again.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t Cameron and May Remainers?

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