A storm engulfed the UK yesterday, greater even than the literal storm soaking Labour Party Conference delegates this week. The decision was unanimous, the verdict explicit: Boris Johnson broke the law by proroguing Parliament, and he potentially even misled lovely old Queenie. The Brexiteers’ Messiah is in fact just a very naughty boy.
This was meant to be the final The Word From Westminster update from Labour Party Conference and the shenanigans by the seaside, but of course all of that has turned out to be a sideshow once the news came through from the Supreme Court yesterday morning. Clearly this is a huge moment and yet another one that will go down in history. But what does it all change in practice? Now that Parliament has been ‘un-prorogued’ our MPs will be back in the comfort of Westminster this morning to be bellowed at by John Bercow. Haven’t we missed it? Parliamentary business will resume and all bills that were dropped are now live again. The Tories are hoping that the House will temporarily agree to rise again to give them time for their Party Conference next week, but they are at the mercy of their colleagues on this, and it is still conceivable that this plea could be rejected.
So in the immediate term, it’s all happening. The bigger picture however is actually remarkably unchanged. The whole motive for Johnson proroguing Parliament in the first place was to try and stop MPs from legislating against a no-deal Brexit. But, of course, they managed to do this anyway, which meant the prorogation really only had symbolic importance.
Politically speaking, this is hugely embarrassing for the Prime Minister who has lost every single Parliamentary vote he has faced and has now lost in the Supreme Court as well. But the question of how many minds this will actually change remains to be seen. Will Brexiteers who back Johnson really waver over this? If anything, it might have the opposite effect for some – expect to hear all about how the establishment is ‘pulling rank to thwart Brexit’. The opposition parties are, of course, having a field day and calling for Johnson’s resignation, but this comes across as a bit rich when they continue to block a General Election, which ultimately remains the only way to force him out.
Yesterday was a bad day for the Government, there is no doubt about that. But this is one battle in a much larger war for public opinion, and it’s a war that, if we are to believe the polls, Boris Johnson is still somehow winning. The task for the Opposition is to chip away at this lead to continue to capitalise on Johnson’s blunders, and hope that the polls narrow as a result. As for the Prime Minister, he will continue screaming for a General Election and calling Corbyn a ‘big girl’s blouse’ for refusing him one in the hope that eventually the pressure will become too much.
The chess game goes on but from today the setting will revert to the Palace of Westminster. Order, order!