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Ponsonby: Coup, clever politics or rewriting the constitution?

Our special correspondent analyses a series of unprecedented prime ministerial manoeuvres.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson HOC

For unprecedented times, a series of prime ministerial manoeuvres, which, taken together, are quite simply without historical parallel.

First up, prorogue parliament in an attempt to outflank those MPs who want to prevent you from delivering the central pitch that got you to Downing Street in the first place. Then threaten rebel MPs with expulsion or deselection. If you are derailed, attempt a General Election whilst hinting that you will ignore any law to extend the Brexit date.

And all the time, each move, with its scope for failure, inviting a fatal wobble on the high wire on which Mr Johnson's premiership is propped up.

Never before has a Prime Minister at a time of acute national crisis sought refuge in the psyche of the gambler. Boris Johnson, risk-taking personality and all, seems addicted to a strategy of winner takes all.

To his opponents, who are aghast as it is possible to be, it's a coup against parliament and the constitution. To his supporters it's clever politics, leadership at last as he drives the country out of the EU, delivering on the people's verdict and ending the parliamentary impasse. It's a two-month battle to get back to normal politics. Fat chance that will happen.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1440404-thousands-protest-against-pm-s-suspension-of-parliament/ | default

Just consider what this crisis has done. Courts, north and south of the border will now have to consider if the exercise of prerogative powers on which suspending parliament was based was inappropriately used in the specific circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

Former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption declared last week that the prorogation was lawful but politically deplorable. The sovereign is now at the heart of this debate as are the judiciary. Yes, even Brexit will usher a longer-term debate about the need for a written UK constitution.

As to the issue of the management of Conservative MPs, carefully placed briefings suggest rebels will be kicked out of the party. Think of it, just stop, pause, and look at the choreography here.

The Prime Minister is limiting debate on Brexit with parliament's suspension and if a General Election is to happen, Remain-backing MPs could be prevented from allowing their voters to pass judgement on their behaviour because the Conservative party will have either withdrawn the whip from them or kicked them out.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1440322-sturgeon-shutting-down-parliament-is-dictatorship/ | default

This is the stuff of democratic centralism so beloved of the followers of Lenin, the notion that MPs are delegates with unflinching loyalty to party and not ultimately accountable to the people who put them in parliament in the first place.

No minister has gone 'on the record' with the threat but the briefings suggest that the politics of knee-cap might not be too far away.

In Downing Street last night the Prime Minister said we will be out of the EU at the end of October come what may, even, he implies, if parliament says differently. Really? The Prime Minister is first among equals. He is not above the will and sovereignty of parliament. There is no constitutional principle of the absolute authority of the Prime Minister. Mr Johnson is a man notorious for not being across detail. It would appear that some of the details of the UK constitution have passed him by.

His hope is that if he delivers Brexit he will be anointed as a great leader in historical terms. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has already said as much. If he delivers on his promise, constitutional politics will not subside, not in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. Mr Johnson will have taken the UK out of one Union only to start the battle to save another one.

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