Political Intelligence: August & September
By Rafaella de Freitas
Despite summer recess, August was an eventful month for British Politics— marked by resignations, nominations, summits and what has been labelled as the biggest blow to democracy.
Leaders of the Western world and guest countries ranging from Burkina Faso to Spain met in Biarritz for the G7 summit. The talks were centered around the fight against inequalities, with issues ranging from trade wars to forest fires. Iran took the spotlight in foreign policy and security talks, with tensions escalating over the past few months. Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Libya, the Korean Peninsula and Hong Kong were also considered, and action points included the organisation of a summit to discuss the situation in Ukraine, and the recognition of the importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong. Trade tensions remain high, as China and America announce further tariffs, and Japan and South Korea revisit old disagreements.
The G7 leaders international taxation, a coordinated approach towards the digital sector, and a reform of the World Trade Organisation to simplify regulatory barriers were also discussed. In terms of funding, the group mobilised €550 million to replenish the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, €1 million to the International Fund for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, €85 million to help develop 100,000 female-run businesses in Africa and €20 million to finance aeroplanes to fight the fires in the Amazon rainforest.
Parliament was due to return from the summer break on the 9th of September, leaving a little over one month to decide the fate of Brexit. However, on the 28th of August, the Johnson government announced that the Queen accepted a prorogation of Parliament from the 12th of September until the 14th of October— a legal but questionable move, accused as being an anti-democratic attempt to push for a no-deal. Johnson’s move, although extreme, was not out of character.
Shortly after the decision to prorogue Parliament was announced and following a few days of speculation by the media, Ruth Davidson resigned from her post as leader of the Scottish Conversative Party. In her resignation letter, Davidson did not position herself against Johnson but instead cited family commitments— a stance which changed after the PM expelled several Conservative MPs, including Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. In early September, Davidson made known her disapproval of the way in which Parliament was suspended, and judged the removal of the whip from twenty one MPs “unholy”.
Echoing the uproar about Johnson’s move, which sparked demonstrations across the UK, the Scottish Supreme Court ruled the action unconstitutional. Government is now appearing before the Court in a three-day hearing, with the first day concluding in the government representative clarifying that any decision taken by the court will be respected, and the Court condemning the PM’s abuse of power.
In a daring move, 21 Tory MPs defied the whip and voted in favour of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Bill 2019, which received Royal Assent within 5 days after its first reading in the House of Commons. The Bill, which has passed into legislation, makes it against the law for Britain to leave the EU without a deal: the PM has until the 19th of October to convince MPs to vote in favour of a deal, or to change their position and vote in favour of a no-deal scenario. If this does not happen, the PM is bound to seek an extension, making the new Brexit deadline the 31st January 2020.
Having repeatedly claimed to be against a further delay to Brexit, the PM’s most favourable option would be to negotiate a new Brexit deal before the 31st of October, which would require approval from the EU and their member states, as well as approval in the House of Commons. The likelihood of an agreement being reached between the UK and EU is unclear, as the EU holds that the text of the withdrawal agreement is closed and that no formal proposals have been tabled. If UK and EU negotiators are unable to reach a consensus and the PM does not call for an extension, solutions to preventing a no deal include a vote of no confidence or resignation. The BBC elaborates on the next steps for Brexit here.
The passing of the law against no-deal prompted a series of expulsions from the Tory Party— 21 MPs, including Sir Nicholas Soames, former Chancellor Phillip Hammond, former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and Fashion Roundtable contacts Ed Vaizey and Caroline Nokes. Governing without a majority since the defection of Phillip Lee, the loss of 21 MPs is a significant blow to the Conservative leadership.
Friction within and between parties promises an interesting Conference season, which kicked off with the Brexit Party Conference tour on the 2nd of September, followed by the Lib Dems on the 14th, the Labour Party Conference on the 21st and closing with the Conservative Party Conference beginning on the 29th of September.