As he so often does, Gerry Hassan
has provided an excellent dissection of the problem presented by the Prime Minister and the UK Government, but he fails to explain how they will be 'driven into the wilderness', as he prescribes.
We have a Government that is costing lives through the ineptitude and ideology that Gerry Hassan describes; it is, in a very real way, a danger to the people it is there to protect. If this were a company, or a charitable body, or a sports club, there are mechanisms that could be called on to bring the leadership to account and to punish or get rid of those who are causing harm. But, in the case of the Government, it seems that our only option is to rail at it and hope for something better to eventually come along.
What are the possibilities for change? The Tory Party might, conceivably, remove Mr Johnson but that would most likely lead to a Raab or Gove Government with no prospect of significant change in policy or delivery. There is no possibility of unseating the Prime Minister through parliamentary action, given the Government's majority and there is no sign of any further legal challenges being successful or effective, given the way the Prime Minister has been able to shrug off Supreme Court rulings in the past. No amount of bad headlines, marches or placard waving are likely to lead to the Government standing down. A public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic might well happen but might also take years and produce little change.
Given the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a General Election is not on the cards. However, according to the Act, the Prime Minister is required to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness or otherwise of its operations sometime between July and November of this year. This is something that might be lost to the general public behind the concerns about the virus and also Brexit. But it could provide a significant platform for a national discussion about the relative powers of the Government and Parliament. That would depend on who gets to chair and sit on it.
There is only one power that is constitutionally able to act in the short-term in relation to the composition of Her Majesty's Government and that is the monarch. I have already learned that the best way to lose independence or republican-minded friends is to point out that, today, we live in a monarchy and that the monarch has the authority to invite someone other than the current Prime Minister to form a new Government. I understand that people don't want to give credibility to the monarchy, but we are paying for it, so we might at least try to get something out of it until the position is changed.
This is not a new thought. In October 2019, before the coronavirus crisis and in the context of Brexit, David Allen Green set out a detailed analysis in the Financial Times
of the legal position of the monarch to dismiss a Government that is based on the Prime Minister losing the confidence of Parliament. There is nothing in our unwritten constitution, except for convention, that would prevent the monarch from changing the Government if she thought she had good reason to do so. That reason might include putting the lives and welfare of the country's people at risk through serious mismanagement at a time of national crisis.
Polling suggests that the general public is becoming more aware of the Government's mismanagement and is increasingly less supportive of the Government's handling of the crisis and of the role of the Prime Minister. I anticipate that this will only intensify as we all learn more about the decisions that have been taken and their consequences in terms of lives. At some point, the public might decide that it wants a change in Government before the time indicated by the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
What if the public – in their hundreds of thousands or millions – and the devolved Parliaments of the UK decide to petition the monarch to make a change to the composition of her Government? This would provoke a constitutional crisis but maybe this is what is required in these unusual times. Perhaps this could be their ticket to the 'wilderness' that the current UK Government so richly deserves.
Damian Killeen OBE
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