Theresa May’s open contempt of Parliament is both dangerous and unconstitutional, argues Comment Writer Nathan Clarke
In a humiliating couple of days for Theresa May, her government have been found guilty of acting ‘in contempt of Parliament’ for failing to publish key Brexit legal advice.
So, why is this such a big deal?
Firstly, what does the term ‘contempt of Parliament’ actually mean? Essentially, May’s government have purposely hindered Parliament from fulfilling its civic duties by withholding key pieces of information from them. The implications of this are immense, telling us all we need to know about May herself and the complete mess the Tories have found themselves in.
May’s fragile hold on power has never been so cruelly exposed. As the first ever government to be found guilty of this crime, not only is this a huge source of personal embarrassment to May herself, but it is also deeply reflective of her lack of support and power in the Commons.
The way the Conservatives have handled Brexit is dangerous and threatens the very foundations of our democracy: Parliamentary sovereignty. May’s actions are in my view irresponsible, dangerous and unconstitutional. The government has no right to decide the will of the House of Commons. Neither is it acceptable for them to hide information from the public, the very people they claim to represent.
Unfortunately, the Tories have made a habit of deciding what they believe is best for the British public. The lack of input the general public have had in the Brexit negotiations has been appalling. By withholding key pieces of information, I believe the Conservatives have shown themselves to be blatant liars, placing their need to protect their tenuous hold on power above the needs of the public. This is no way for a government to act, especially at such a crucial time in British history.
In a selfish move, May has attempted to push Brexit through the house by force. Running scared from calls for a people’s vote, she will do anything within her power to get her deal through. May is on the ropes, facing opposition from all sides, and is willing to fight dirty.
So why was May so eager to hide the contents of this legal advice? Essentially, its findings threaten the entire Brexit process itself. The document threatens to lock the UK into a permanent Customs Union, should the Irish Backstop issue fail to be resolved, and forces the country to accept EU regulations while having very limited say in their creation. Politicians across the House have recognised the absurdity of this arrangement and claimed it fails to address voter’s calls for a greater say over the laws which govern this country. Brexiteer Tories stand aghast at the prospect of a permanent Customs Union. The DUP (on whom May relies upon for a majority) are rightfully concerned that Northern Ireland will be treated differently to the rest of the UK should the backstop become permanent. And Labour recognise how the deal fails to protect jobs and workers rights. In a nutshell, no one is happy.
With politics moving at a breakneck speed recently, it has been incredibly difficult to keep up with the consent flow of information from the political world. However, one key piece of information, I believe, holds the key to understanding why the Tories have found themselves in this mess. A day before the court ruling, a top EU law official claimed that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50 (the formal process of leaving the EU) if it chose to. Essentially, Brexit can be stopped; a huge cause for optimism among those calling for a second referendum and a huge thorn-in-the-side for Theresa May.
May is not stupid. She knows her deal is unlikely to make it through the Commons and she is acutely aware that calls for a people’s vote are growing at an alarming rate. However, acting in contempt of Parliament cannot go unpunished and she must be held accountable.
When MP’s vote on the UK’s withdrawal agreement on the 11th December (the most important vote in over a generation) the future of our country will be on the line. It is vital for the survival of our democracy that MP’s be given all the necessary information in order to make an informed choice. MP’s must scrutinise this deal to the fullest. History will never forgive them if they allow such a damaging deal through Parliament so hastily. Have we not learnt the dangers of voting on issues on which he have too little information? This is how we got into this mess in the first place.
In the broadest sense, May has acted unconstitutionally. She has attempted to obstruct democracy. This is no small matter. No government is above the law. Rules are in place for a reason: to ensure it is the will of the public represented in the House of Commons, not the will of the Prime Minister. When May spoke of “taking back control” surely this is not what she meant.