Boris Johnson is trashing the democracy fought for with the blood of our ancestors | Owen Jones
Call the suspension of parliament what it is: a coup d’état by an unelected prime minister. Brexit, we were promised, was about restoring the sovereignty of the House of Commons and taking back control of our laws. That institution is now to be shut down, its ability to pass legislation neutered. Just days now remain for elected representatives to have any say over the greatest upheaval since the guns fell silent in the second world war. It must be, and will be, resisted.
Let us nail this perverse lie that forcing through no deal is honouring the referendum result. The official leave campaigns made it abundantly clear that Brexit would mean a deal, and an easily negotiated one too. Don’t believe me? Listen to the co-convenor of Vote Leave, Michael Gove himself: “But we didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead. During that campaign, we said we should do a deal with the EU and be part of the network of free trade deals that covers all Europe, from Iceland to Turkey.” For good measure, he added: “Leaving without a deal on March 29 would not honour that commitment. It would undoubtedly cause economic turbulence.”
During that referendum campaign, Nigel Farage extolled the virtues of Norway as a nation prospering outside the stultifying confines of the EU; yet emulating that shining Nordic example is now dismissed as Brexit In Name Only. A year after the referendum, the British people had their democratic say once again. Some 54% of them voted for parties ruling out no deal. A majority of the elected representatives they voted for oppose no deal. Parliament is being shut down to drive through an extreme proposition – which will cause economic destruction and force Britain back to the negotiating table in an enfeebled state – for which there is zero democratic mandate.
Consider this thought experiment. Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister, despite never winning a general election. His party lacks a majority, and is dependent on the support of the Scottish National party, support he secured in exchange for bunging them a legal bribe. He wishes to impose a radical proposal which, by any objective measure, will result in a self-inflicted economic shock, damage the country’s social fabric and leave us internationally weakened. Knowing that parliament opposes such a measure, he simply suspends it. Imagine the hysteria, the cries of Venezuela, of communist tyranny. Where Johnson’s assault on democracy is normalised, if a Prime Minister Corbyn attempted it, the forces of the establishment would intervene to thwart it, whatever it took.
To prorogue is to “suspend parliamentary democracy”, and that “goes against everything that those men who waded on to those beaches fought and died for”. Dramatic words, you might think: they were uttered by Matt Hancock, now in Johnson’s cabinet, who – as a supine careerist devoid of principle – will likely now cheerfully champion this anti-democratic disgrace. But he was right. This is an attack on a democracy fought for through the blood and sacrifice of our ancestors. To allow a cabal of pampered public school hacks, whose only interest is the survival of the Conservative party and their own careers, and for whom this is all a rather droll and amusing game, to trash democracy like their Bullingdon Club once trashed restaurants in their tops and tails – it is intolerable.
Writing to the Queen is not going to save you, no matter how many letters are sent her way. Petitions may show strength of feeling but can be ignored. Witty placards featuring crude innuendos about the prime minister will raise a smile and brighten up a protest, but they will not topple governments. Our existing rights and freedoms were not given as acts of charity from beneficent elites – they were secured through relentless, determined struggle. Democracy is menaced, and it is this tradition which must be relied on to defend it.
The British people must now take to the streets, and deploy the tactic used by their ancestors to secure the rights of women, of workers, of minorities, of LGBTQ people: peaceful civil disobedience. If parliament is to be shut down, MPs must refuse to leave it. It should be occupied by the citizens it exists to serve. Other acts of peaceful civil disobedience – including the occupation of government offices across the country – should follow. If a general strike is necessary to defend democracy, then so be it.
The prime minister – a self-professed champion of bankers who wishes to shower the rich with tax cuts, deregulate and attack workers’ rights – is farcically trying to portray himself as a tribune of the people against the elites. His latest manoeuvre must be exposed as an act of hubris by an unaccountable political elite with contempt for democracy. The protest movement that must now emerge must draw the true battle-lines ahead of an impending general election. It must not be simply be a contest defined by how we voted one summer’s day in 2016. It will be a fight between those who create the wealth and the elites who hoard it; between those who paid for the crash and those who caused it; between those who pay their taxes and those who dodge them.
However much the Conservative establishment dress themselves in revolutionary garb, they are the political representatives of those who fund them – not those who sleeplessly stare at ceilings in the early hours, panicking over unopened energy bills on kitchen tables, but the hedge fund managers, poverty-paying bosses and bankers who plunged Britain into the abyss, for whom this country is a playground in which to run riot, while others pick up the bill. If no deal happens, the Tories will look after their own – they always do – while the ex-mining and steel and industrial communities trashed by their predecessors will suffer a renewed kicking. But none of this is inevitable: and, just as our ancestors fought with determination and courage to win our rights, it now falls to us to defend them.
• Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist