Our new Prime Minister stated very clearly on Saturday Morning “That is why it is now so urgent for us to move on and build a new relationship with our friends in the EU on the basis of a new deal—a deal that can heal the rift in British politics and unite the warring instincts in us all. Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting, with a new way forward and a new and better deal both for Britain and our friends in the EU.”
Even if a week is a long time in Politics, two days is clearly not very long. It was nevertheless judged long enough by Johnson and his adviser for Parliament to be obliged to debate and assess a bill which under any other circumstances would take months or certainly many weeks to work through. However when Parliament agreed last night in principle to adopt the Bill at its second reading but refused to transport it to its third and final reading in two days (given that the Government wanted it to be finished tomorrow night) it would seem perfectly reasonable for the Government to still begin the process and be willing for it to take a little longer. After all had they not prorogued Parliament back in September and had they reopened Parliament in August as Caroline Lucas and a number of others called for, Parliament would have been able to debate the ideas and words that Johnson released to Parliament late on Monday of this week. Immediately prior to the vote a comment from Robert Buckland QC MP, Secretary of State for Justice was “It is something that should make us focus even more determinedly upon the need to make decisions—however imperfect, however unpalatable, however untimely they might seem to hon. Members. The public demand nothing less than for us to make a positive move. The time for decision making is now. The time for proposing nothing, opposing everything and seeking to play old-fashioned politics is over. We have to get on with this.”
Yet after the votes which gave a majority in favour of the second reading but rejected the timetable, and after Corbyn stated “Tonight the House has refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days, with barely any notice and no analysis of the economic impact of this Bill. The Prime Minister is the author of his own misfortune. I make this offer to him tonight: work with us—all of us—to agree a reasonable timetable, and I suspect that this House will vote to debate, scrutinise and, I hope, amend the detail of this Bill. That would be the sensible way forward, and that is the offer I make on behalf of the Opposition tonight.” It was very significant that Johnson ignored this offer altogether and instead stated:
“I must express my disappointment that the House has again voted for delay, rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK was in a position to leave the EU on 31 October with a deal. We now face further uncertainty, and the EU must now make up their minds about how to answer Parliament’s request for a delay. The first consequence is that the Government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a no-deal outcome. Secondly, however, I will speak to EU member states about their intentions and, until they have reached a decision, we will pause this legislation. Let me be clear: our policy remains that we should not delay and that we should leave the EU on 31 October. That is what I will say to the EU, and I will report back to the House. One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal, to which this House has just given its assent, and I thank Members across the House for that hard-won agreement.”
He then leaves the House of Commons and misses the clear and very reasonable call from Ken Clarke who says: “I cannot quite see the logic of pausing progress on the Bill when the whole House is expecting the next two days to be spent on it. That would enable us to see how quickly the House wishes to proceed and what sort of time is being looked for, and if people started filibustering—I hope they would not—it might enable the Government to get a majority for a timetable motion that was a modest adjustment to tonight’s. Three or four days more would do it.”
Of course if what Johnson wishes is to have unity but only on his own terms, then he is both bound to fail and demonstrating that despite his educational background he does not understand what unity means, as it is clearly a call for consensus and compromise!