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Dublin: 20 °C Friday 29 May, 2020

The most crucial things said this week after another historic Brexit twist

From transforming prorogation into a black sheet of paper, to eagles picking out livers – there were some wild things said this week.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

WORDS MATTER, PARTICULARLY this week that became historic for what was and wasn’t said. 

In what was the most crucial news of the week, the President of the UK Supreme Court Lady Hale gave a historic judgement in a clear non-legal language delivery.

“…The Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect,” she told the court on Tuesday.

“This means that when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.”

In explaining the unanimous verdict, Hale said that the government didn’t tell the court why parliament was prorogued for five weeks:

No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court… [The UK government did] not explain why it was necessary to bring Parliamentary business to a halt for five weeks before that, when the normal period necessary to prepare for the Queen’s Speech is four to six days.

“This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech.” 

new-president-of-the-supreme-court Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court. Source: Lauren Hurley

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in New York for a UN summit dominated by the topic of climate change. As leaders addressed the global gathering one-by-one, Johnson’s address was erratic, confusing, and made just one off-the-cuff reference to Brexit.

In what is best described as thrashing around verbally, Johnson mused whether the Internet of Things meant that “your mattress will monitor your nightmares“, asked whether synthetic biology would “bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables”, and referred to “pink-eyed terminators” (we’re fairly sure he meant ‘red’).

His more terrifying, bizarre reference was to the Classics, of course: “It is a trope as old as literature, that any scientific advance is punished by the gods.”

When Prometheus brought fire to mankind – in a tube of fennel as you may remember with his brother Epimetheus – Zeus punished him by chaining him to a Tartarian crag [a rock] while his liver was pecked out by an eagle.
And every time his liver regrew – the eagle came back and pecked it again. And this went on forever. A bit like the experience of Brexit. In the UK. If some of our parliamentarians had their way.

Cue the laughter.  

un-general-assembly Source: PA Wire/PA Images

When Johnson did react to the ruling, he had to tread carefully: stand his ground on his decision, without casting aspersions on the judiciary of his country.

“I strongly disagree with this decision of the Supreme Court. I have the utmost respect for our judiciary… I don’t think this was the right decision I think that the prorogation has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge.”

He added that “… of course parliament will come back,” much to the delight of House Speaker John Bercow who announced the return of parliament on Wednesday at 11.30.

“Colleagues, welcome back to our place of work,” he said to his fellow MPs at that time.

Elsewhere, the fallout from the Supreme Court ruling was fierce.

Amidst the Labour party’s fractured party conference in Brighton, its leader Jeremy Corbyn latched on to the opportunity to shout about something all his members could get behind: “I invite Boris Johnson – in the historic words – to consider his position, and become the shortest serving Prime Minister there’s ever been.” 

I’d say that the second part of that statement gives you an answer on the first part. 

To hammer home that idea that the Supreme Court ruling isn’t about Brexit, but about prorogation, Brexit Party founder and leader Nigel Farage said: “The calling of a Queen’s Speech and prorogation is the worst political decision ever. Dominic Cummings must go.”

Cummings, Boris Johnson’s controversial main adviser and a former director of Vote Leave, is enjoying himself it seems.

“We are enjoying this, we are going to leave and we are going to win,” he said this week.

In response to questions from a Labour MP who demanded answers from Cummings on the divisive rhetoric made by the in the House of Commons this weekend, he calmly responded: “Get Brexit done.”

That divisive rhetoric mostly came from the Prime Minister himself and his baritone Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Both had come under pressure over the legal advice upon which prorogation was based on from incensed MPs. 

After being questioned, Cox told MPs that “at all times, the government acted in good faith”, and added: 

I will consider in the coming days whether there is a public interest in the greater disclosure of the advice to the government on this issue… the matter is under consideration.

Although it’s unusual for Attorney Generals to share their advice to the government publically, this has happened before when Cox published an abridged version of his advice on the backstop, famously saying that it would “endure indefinitely”. 

Other famous orations by the Disney-villain like Cox include:

This parliament is a dead parliament – it has no moral right to sit on these green benches… This parliament is a disgrace. Since I am asked, let me tell them the truth: they could vote no confidence at any time, but they’re too cowardly.”

This parliament should have the courage to face the electorate but it won’t because so many of them are all about preventing us leaving the EU. But the time is coming when even these turkeys won’t be able to prevent Christmas. 

He did concede on one issue: that the UK should consider writing it’s constitution down: “I do think that as we depart the EU, there is ground for thinking about our constitutional arrangements and how they should be ordered.”

About time. 

When Johnson did appear before his combative parliament, he didn’t back down: instead accusing them of “cowardice”, “humbug”, and running away from his election. He also  repeatedly used the terms ‘Surrender Act’ and ‘Capitulation Act’ when referring to the Benn Act, which would force Johnson to ask for an extension if there’s no Brexit deal.

But as he and his government were repeatedly asked to tone down his divisive inflammatory rhetoric – with Tracy Brabin, who succeeded Cox in her former constituency, saying that members should “feel secure when we’re going about our jobs”.

What I will say is that the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and indeed the best way to bring this country together would be, I think, to get Brexit done.

While Johnson’s own family called his comments “tasteless”, his Cabinet colleagues rallied around him to defend him.

The Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said: ”I think it is only fair to say that Boris is the Pep Guardiola of British politics.” 

Meanwhile, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters yesterday ahead of a meeting with the UK’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on alternatives to the backstop: ”We are still waiting.”

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