A battle of two evils

Proroguing parliament to force through Brexit is wrong. But using parliament to stop Brexit is far worse.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Brexit Politics UK

The news that Boris Johnson has sought legal advice on shutting down parliament for five weeks has got Remoaner MPs in a froth. The PM wants to know if it would be legally airtight to prorogue parliament from early September to mid-October in order that preparations for Brexit could be made without the pesky interferences of that army of MPs who loathe Brexit. He would destroy parliamentary democracy, his critics cry. It would be ‘outrageous’, says Labour’s Keir Starmer. It would be the behaviour of a ‘tinpot dictator’, says Jess Phillips. Rich Remainers are taking legal action to prevent it from happening. The hysterics of the #FBPE universe think it would be the end of the world as we know it, but they say that about everything.

The only reasonable reply to these self-styled doughty defenders of parliamentary democracy is: who do you think you are kidding? If these people cared one jot about parliament, they wouldn’t be devoting so much political and moral energy to trying to keep the UK inside the EU, an institution whose chief accomplishment has been to water down national parliaments through the pooling of sovereignty and the removal of key political and economic questions from the grubby sphere of national democracy. The EU supports parliamentary democracy like an electric chair supports your back. To pose as warriors for the rights of parliament in one breath and then weep and wail for the return of the UK to the anti-democratic bosom of the EU in the next speaks to a serious infantilism of the mind.

More pressing is the question of what these supposed defenders of parliamentary democracy want parliament for. What do they want it to do? They are standing up for parliamentary democracy for one reason and one reason only: because they see parliament as the arena in which they might thwart the will of the people. These Brexit-loathing elitists have come to view parliament, not as the representative body of the people’s beliefs, but as a chamber in which the people’s beliefs might be overthrown; in which they, being so much more enlightened than us, can twist the rules, pass amendments and act as a dead weight on the executive to the exclusive end of diluting Brexit beyond recognition or stopping it entirely.

Boris might be proposing a showdown between the executive and the parliament, but his pseudo-democratic critics are proposing something worse: a showdown between parliament and the people, in which parliamentarians, more than 70 per cent of whom voted for Remain, would use their know-all, well-educated, arrogant clout to ensure that the brainwashed little people did not get their way. The constitutional crisis Boris would provoke by proroguing parliament to push through the largest democratic vote in UK history would pale into insignificance in comparison with the disorder that would ensue from the weaponisation of parliament against the people.

Indeed, both paths are wrong. It is wrong to prorogue parliament; this would indeed represent a problematic restriction on parliamentary democracy. And it is wrong to abuse parliament, as everyone from the Speaker down has been doing for three years now, in order to stymie the wishes of those whose beliefs and hopes are meant to be embodied in parliament – the people. This is a clash of two evils. Which evil is worse? People can decide that for themselves. In my view, an executive that is at least acting on the authority of 17.4million people who voted for Brexit has more legitimacy than Brexit-blocking MPs who are acting on behalf of themselves and their class of technocratic experts, bureaucrats and snobs.

To see how flimsy is the anti-Boris lobby’s claim to be defenders of democracy, look no further than the figure of Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley. She says Boris is effectively saying ‘f*** democracy’ with his proroguing plans. This is a politician who represents a constituency whose every ward voted Leave in the 2016 referendum. In fact, the four wards of Birmingham Yardley voted Leave by huge majorities, one by 68 per cent, far higher than the national average. And yet Ms Phillips has devoted herself to halting Brexit and bringing about a second referendum. Perhaps she thinks her constituents are so stupid they must be made to vote twice. If Boris is saying ‘f***democracy’, as she claims, then she is saying, ‘f*** Birmingham Yardley, f*** my own voters’.

There is much to criticise in the idea of proroguing parliament. But the anti-Brexit MPs criticising it are not doing so because they love democracy, whether of the parliamentary or any other kind. No, they fear the suspension of parliament because it would rob them of the key arena in which they are able to twist the rules and warp the agenda in order to achieve what would be the largest assault on British democracy in the history of the people winning the franchise – the thwarting of the vote for Brexit.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Marvin Jones

10th September 2019 at 3:08 pm

If around 404 remain MPs are running their constituencies on the opposite wishes voted for, and have the definite impression that they were much too thick and ignorant to know what they were voting for, is that worse than proroguing this mob of arrogant despots?

Ann Ceely

31st August 2019 at 6:44 pm

Killing people is wrong – without just cause! For example in a war. Then, killing the enemy is OK.
Similarly, “Proroging Parliament is wrong” some say. Except – when it prevents the democratically derived decision being implemented.

Jerry Owen

28th August 2019 at 4:27 pm

It appears we may well be leaving on Oct 31st.. a little later than planned !
Now for some popcorn to sit down and watch the BBC etc exploding!

John Millson

28th August 2019 at 8:45 am

‘Which evil is worse? People can decide that for themselves’. They are both ‘evil’ and neither should happen.
‘17.4 million’ is now ‘iconic’ but it needs to be contextualised. 52% of the votes cast (39% of the total electorate) is not a ringing endorsement to end a 44 year old economic/political relationship as if it’s leaving a job or moving house. Because of that percentage figure we have this political crisis.
Truism: if Boris Johnson had been in PM in 2016 then of course we would be out now, with a common sense withdrawal agreement in place, may be even ‘softer’ than Theresa May’s…

John Millson

28th August 2019 at 10:17 am

10.00 am 28/8/19 – And so it will happen. Parliament will be suspended in early September (prorogued) before the Queen’s speech in mid October.
The ‘17.4’ now need to keep their mouths shut and accept what they are given, just like the rest of us.
What a holy f*cked-up mess.

Mike Arthur

30th August 2019 at 8:20 pm

Fine, let’s contextualise:

”’Britain will have its second referendum – at the EU elections on 23 May” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/18/european-elections-second-brexit-referendum-vote-register).

Let’s contextualise with the result: Brexit Party majority (29 seats / 31.6% vote), for scrapping all of May’s work, WTO exit default.

Contextualised enough?

Steve Roberts

27th August 2019 at 3:34 pm

Two evils, yes very clearly so and O’Neill explains them both, but whether one has ” more legitimacy..” or not, in the context of the major political/democratic battle we are now facing the “lesser” “more legitimate” is still evil. If we are asked to take sides for or against we must, and that must be against both evils. Does that resolve the issue of leaving the EU ? No. Does it resolve the democratic crisis of popular sovereignty and who rules ? No.
Major political issues cannot be resolved by technocratic means, at best they can be a temporary fix while the underlying problem remains unresolved.
It is worth noting here, if we are asked to take sides with those advocating proroguing, are they honest, are they unequivocal, can they be trusted, or are they once more playing us all when at the last minute they could recall Parliament and stitch us all up with some “acceptable” compromise that may just temporarily save the Tories from electoral oblivion, while they would have gained our support in what is an antidemocratic manoeuvre that we will all have to be accountable for in the future.
No that’s not good enough, our problems reside in the HOC and the incumbents, all our resources should be aimed at their removal from public life whatever their political persuasion.
We need representatives who abide by our will, especially over this clear form of direct democracy, the referendum result, they must unequivocally support leaving the EU, the CU, SM and ECJ as an absolute minimum, no equivocation, that is the only way to resolve the democratic crisis we face of traitorous representatives and an untrustworthy executive.
Until we rid public life of the political class and established order , even if some shallow compromise over the EU is achieved , our problems and those that cause them will still remain in power, we must be rid of them first, that’s how to begin to resolve our problems not some undemocratic technical fix that would leave us all tarred with the anti democratic brush we use against the anti democrats in power now.

Hana Jinks

28th August 2019 at 5:20 am

Peeved Gobbett’s.

Why do use so many words to say so …nothing?

Amelia Cantor

27th August 2019 at 11:30 am

The Bullingdon Buffoon is going to do no better on Brexit than the hapless Theresa May. He might as well be trying to fish the moon out of the Serpentine. But when racists, xenophobes and low-information northern proles don’t listen to sensible advice, they get what they voted for: an on-going train-crash.

As remainers will never tire of reminding you: “We told you so!”

Ed Turnbull

27th August 2019 at 12:19 pm

Exactly Amelia – the stale, pale and male voted for what they wanted (against sooo much wise advice) and now they’re goung to get it. And they have the temerity to call this a democracy! If only the votes of brave wombyn of colour (y’know the wombyn who wear the liberating niqab or burka or chador) had counted for more than those of those toxic male notherners, all of this could’ve been avoided. (I include all the northern females who voted ‘leave’ under this umbrella – they obviously have internalised misogyny, and as such are *women* rather than *wombyn*). And transwombyn (hmm? does that even work? I mean, given that they don’t actually have wombs), their votes should’ve had greater electoral value than those of the cisgender proles. That’s the democratic reform we require – the old (and oppressive) idea of ‘one person, one vote’ is soooo patriarchal. We must replace it with value relative suffrage – the value of your vote being based on where you are intersectionally, and how woke you are, obviously.

After all, Orwell got it utterly right in ‘Animal Farm’: all animals are equal, but *some* animals (the woke ones of course) are more equal than others. That should be our objective, and when we achieve it the cisgender proles will thank us for relieving them of much of the burden of participating in the democratic process. It’s for their own good y’know.

James Murphy

29th August 2019 at 4:01 pm

Cracking response to the fembot! Took me a mo then I got it.

Amelia Cantor

31st August 2019 at 11:54 am

We must replace it with value relative suffrage – the value of your vote being based on where you are intersectionally, and how woke you are, obviously.

As opposed to the value of your vote being based on your gender and bank-balance, you mean? Cisgender white males OPPOSED democracy for millennia, until BAME communities and wombyn had to fight every inch of the way for the right to vote. And now BAME communities are rising inexorably in numbers and will vote us into a better, fairer future.

Hana Jinks

28th August 2019 at 5:24 am

Can’t believe I’m saying this…but l agree with you, Amelia.

Mike Arthur

30th August 2019 at 8:05 pm

Ching! Found you again. Another £5 please Titania.

Puddy Cat

27th August 2019 at 5:15 am

Particularly rich from Corbyn’s Labour Party who have spent just over a hundred years trying to give the little man a voice only to find that person spoke that they didn’t like or care for what was said. They say that they are putting Parliamentary precedence to the fore and yet Mr Corbyn and the party were originally the most vociferous Euro sceptics. This is a sign of party before politics. The piggy-backing of party ambition onto this issue. A cloaking device to come to power under slippery electoral posturing. Many creatures in nature have markings which suggest power or aggression, Labour seems to have adopted the same methodology to disguise its revolutionary socialism. Who knows what Labour actually stand for anymore?

Hana Jinks

28th August 2019 at 5:25 am

Totalitarianism via diversity-communism.

Michael Lynch

26th August 2019 at 10:09 pm

Prorogue away, Boris. The democratic rights of 650 people does not trump the democratic rights of an entire electorate. As the great Tony Benn once said after the referendum to take us in to the EU – ‘when the people speak Parliament MUST tremble.’ They are nothing more than civil servants who are there to do our bidding. It’s really quite that simple.

Boris seems to be doing a great job and is not the buffoon the press makes him out to be. He looks rather comfortable on the World’s stage and is quite the charmer. What a difference with Teresa May who always looked so intimidated when meeting other leaders. He knows he can’t blink and must take the country out one way or the other. If he doesn’t then the Tory Party is dead.


26th August 2019 at 9:04 pm

‘The EU supports parliamentary democracy like an electric chair supports your back.’ —

Somewhat ironic for a subject of an unelected English monarchy to be criticising the EU for their ‘lack of democracy’. The UK has no written constitution, no proper bill of rights, no proper constitutional separation of powers (the Lord Chancellor), a secretive and unaccountable Privy Council and an unelected upper chamber whose members include religious prelates (Iran is the only other country in the world with such an arrangement). British public life is dominated by the 7 percent of people who go to fee-paying schools, and the 93 percent who do not are continually stamped upon. The first past the post electoral system denies millions proper democratic representation.

The EU might be deficient, but the UK should put its own house in order first – preferably by becoming a democracy.

JPM Culligan

27th August 2019 at 1:24 pm

Zenobia, its fitting that your name is an abbreviated homophone of xenophobia…

Yes, the UK doesn’t want to be in the EU. Try not to take that as a personal insult, don’t be defensive, be open to the fact that, on some level, we don’t want you to make laws for us, to tax us or to decide how to spend our money.

It’s perfectly reasonable.

James Knight

26th August 2019 at 5:35 pm

Being in the EU has meant parliament has been partly “prorogued” for many years now.

Remoaners concern for this is like King Herod’s concern for children. Rings a bit hollow.


27th August 2019 at 12:38 pm

Not nearly as hollow as your country’s bizarre and unwarranted assertion that the maintenance of an unelected head of state is consistent with a free, open and truly democratic society.

Alan MacColl

27th August 2019 at 9:12 pm

So Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Sweden (all constitutional monarchies) aren’t ‘free, open and truly democratic’ societies.

Anthony Dennison

26th August 2019 at 4:45 pm

Proroguing is a legal and accepted process of Parliamentary democracy. The speaker going against the constitution, and the likes of Grieve, Boles, Soubry et al working with other nations against the interests of the UK is called treason.

Jerry Owen

27th August 2019 at 9:25 am

Anthony Dennison
You use the word ‘treason’ , it is a word I use a lot for that is what is happening right now. Our ‘Houses of Parliament’ are committing treason against not just a population, but a population that actively and democratically upon being asked
instructed Parliament to remove us from the unelected foreign power called the EU.
There is no clearer case for the charge of treason to be levelled at Parliamentarians.
Personally I think the old fashioned punishment for treason should be brought back… Blair removed that option, and we know why.

Winston Stanley

26th August 2019 at 2:33 pm

Parliament has stood in the way of democracy. Let parliament be prorogued and let democracy be done.

Jerry Owen

26th August 2019 at 3:18 pm

What a pillock you made of yourself on another thread. Do you have no self awareness ?
When you first made an absolutely idiot of yourself you apologised now you just post unrelated garbage as and when you fancy it.
Truly dreadful and diminishes this site.

Hana Jinks

26th August 2019 at 4:26 pm

We is the judge and jury all in one, oven-bitch.


Winston Stanley

26th August 2019 at 4:38 pm

It is really none of your business is it, Jerry? Do have no self-awareness?

I have asked you not to address me, be aware of that and mind your own in future.

Blas ed cheek.

Hana Jinks

26th August 2019 at 4:47 pm

Funny innit how Babydoll still likes talking to you but not me.

Shina Ringo : Gibbs.


Hana Jinks

26th August 2019 at 4:49 pm

Hana Jinks

26th August 2019 at 6:10 pm

Jerry “Babydoll” Oven-Bitch. I’ve had a lot of posts modded out over the last few days, so maybe that’s why I’m not receiving any of your messages?

Relax Babydoll. This one’s a Love song.


Hana Jinks

27th August 2019 at 8:09 am

This is a message to the British State. If you wanna send trolls to attack my beloved, then they’re gonna have to come thru me.


Jim Lawrie

26th August 2019 at 11:58 am

Parliament is terrified of any vote involving anyone other than themselves. The bluster about democracy and legality is an attempt to hide their fear with a display of righteous aggression and indignation.

Over in Brussels the demand for 55bn quid as a prelude to trade negotiations shows just how skint and scared are they.

MP’s need to be asked why they are so up in arms at not being allowed further votes on a matter that we, the people , have already voted decided at the ballot box.

Philip Humphrey

26th August 2019 at 11:56 am

For me, direct democracy in the form of a referendum of the entire UK electorate trumps the will of our representatives in Parliament. At the end of the day, MPs are our servants and delegates, not our masters.

Jim Lawrie

26th August 2019 at 11:37 am

We could settle the question of stupidity by demanding that all current MP’s take an IQ test.

Jerry Owen

26th August 2019 at 10:22 am

I disagree, this is battle we must win if we have to suspend parliament so be it.
The more time that passes the more likely we are going to lose.

In Negative

26th August 2019 at 10:16 am

“Like the electric chair supports your back” is no improvement on Galloway’s “like the rope supports the hanging man.” I vote we stick with the latter.

Geoff Cox

26th August 2019 at 10:34 am

IN Negative – very good from George Galloway – a man I’m becoming a little more comfortable with as each day passes. By the way, have you ever seen the George Galloway v Christopher Hitchen debate on war in the middle east? It’s on Youtube and is well worth watching even if it is an hour or more.

In Negative

26th August 2019 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for that, I’ll give it a look. I’d be interested to see those two in conversation.

In Negative

27th August 2019 at 8:21 am

Watched it. I really don’t know what anyone ever saw in Christopher Hitchens. The guy drips with smug self-satisfied entitlement, phony humility and unequivocating self-righteousness. I’ve always preferred his brother.

Jonathan Yonge

26th August 2019 at 10:15 am

This has all been arranged to give parliamentarians 2 options only:
– Brexit
– A GE of parliament v The People which parliament would lose

There has been a big change in MSM coverage of Boris, even the BBC is not being negative despite being told to ‘cough up’.

But there will still be individuals. You thought Soubry was the limit ?
We are about to see even more extreme behaviour from MPs like Grieve and Hammond , its going to be terrific entertainment.

Margaret Potter

26th August 2019 at 9:24 am

If prorogation is the only way for 17.4 million vote, i.e. no deal WTO rules 31 October and negotiated FTD after, so be it. As to Jesse Philips Birmingham Yardley should show their disgust and deselect at next GE, and see how she likes that for ‘democracy’ by the people, of the people, for the people

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