Brexit Brief: “Zombie” Parliament Reanimated

Posted on 26th September 2019

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Prorogation cancellation: caught in a web

Boris Johnson’s premiership faced another blow after the Supreme Court overturned the suspension of parliament, voting unanimously to rule it unlawful. The eleven justices said it had an “extreme effect” on Britain’s democracy. The court’s president, Lady Hale, delivered the verdict on Tuesday morning wearing a large spider brooch, which seemed appropriate as the judgment appears to have trapped the prime minister, who called the decision “political”.

“Zombie parliament”

Even with parliament back in session, the gridlock continues. MPs are unsure what to do with their newly re-acquired time, with no majority for any course of action except delay. There is no majority for a second referendum, nor for a softer Brexit, a harder Brexit or the existing UK-EU deal. In fiery scenes in the Commons yesterday, a cabinet minister railed against a “zombie parliament” and repeated calls for an election. Johnson’s room for manoeuvre ahead of the Brexit deadline of 31 October is even more tightly constrained, with parliamentarians now watching – and reacting to – his every move from the benches until 19 October, the deadline by which an extension must be requested but which Johnson refuses to accept will be necessary.

Talks are in ‘the tunnel’ (no sign of light at the end)

With repeated contradicting statements over the progress of talks, it remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson will accomplish what his predecessor never could: renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement. The talks first had promise as the EU accepted in principle finding alternatives to the Northern Irish backstop but stalled again after the UK government refused to share its proposal to member states’ delegates. Now, there is nothing else for the prime minister to do but to negotiate, and seek refuge from vocal Luxembourgers.

Waiting for the election…

Meanwhile in the opposition, party leaders have called for Johnson to resign but refused to back a general election until the article 50 extension required by law is secured. When a general election is called, it will be unpredictable, with polls showing voters split between different Brexit tribes. The Conservatives are concerned their base may once again turn out for the Brexit Party if the prime minister fails to deliver Brexit, while traditional Labour voters may see the Liberal Democrats’ call for the immediate cancellation of Brexit more appealing than the more qualified backing of Remain by Labour’s leadership.

… if ‘pink-eyed Terminators’ and tech dystopia don’t get in the way

As for the Conservatives, Johnson may use a general election to turn the focus on non-Brexit related issues, and tech appears top of mind. During his address at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, the prime minister hailed the UK tech sector as helping to cure illness and bring more cheese to Britain’s fridges, but warned darkly of a future “pink-eyed terminators” and “a future Alexa” that will “pretend to take orders”. Behind the pop culture and Greek mythological references, Johnson seems to be implying that the UK may continue its recent spurt of regulatory activity and seek to export it to the UN.

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