Britain’s Queen Is a Figurehead, but She Just Got Dragged Into Brexit Politics
Britain is scheduled to exit the european union with or without a deal the speaker of the house of commons conservative called the move a constitutional outrage and there's been back and forth over what it means for norms and laws in britain so here with me to discuss boris johnson suspension of parliament and more are two professors that regular listeners will be familiar with as our brexit experts they are david runciman who is the head of the department of politics and international studies at the university of cambridge. Hello david and also with us helen thompson a professor in the cambridge department of politics and international studies focusing on political economy. Hello helen hi gaylon and they also host the podcast cast talking politics which i recommend to anybody who's interested in global politics helen. Let's begin with the basics. Can you explain for an american audience exactly what the prime minister is doing from a perspective well. That's not a straightforward question to answer. I'm afraid a lot of this depends on the fact that we have had what is unusual in britain <hes> a two year parliamentary sessions nanny two years since the last queen's speech when a government sets out its legislative agenda the because of brexit because the really hasn't frankly been any other legislative business. They wasn't a queen's speech last year. So what boris johnson is wanted to do is to bring this parliamentary session to an end start another one which involves having a queen speech into time now in relation to the parliamentary break such there's going eh potentially significantly less time for parliament to act in ways that might stop his government. I'm proceeding with no deal if that the government wishes today. I think the really key question here is the timing issue so proroguing. Parliament is something that allen said it. It is a routine part of the british constitution. It's the timing of it. The fair of opponents of brexit was wasted. Boris johnson might prorogue parliament during an over the end of october uh-huh so preventing parliament from sitting during the time when the no deal will actually happen and he's not done that in many ways he's still left. Many options open open for people who want to stop his government pursuing its policy. He's just shrunk time in which they can do it considerably the thing about perogie parliament that matters in this context is once. It happens everything that preceded. It gets annulled so you have to sought legislation. Will you have to start again so during the period that the british parliament will not i'll be sitting. They can't pick up where they left off. When parliament resumes in the middle of october it'll be a new session and everything will have to start afresh and that does making much harder for the anti brexit is to get their way but it doesn't make it impossible. I mean this is not though there's a lot of talk about a coup and suspension of democracy. It's not like voice. Johnson has simply shut parliament down. He's just shrunk parliament's options and so the politics of this is in many ways more significant than the constitutional implications nations. What is the political strategy here. What is boris johnson hoping will happen at the end of all of this so how can also this and the second. I think it's important to say that my feeling is that the strategist here is boris. Johnson's senior current senior adviser dominic cummings the person he had just a few weeks ago to run this strategy. This has cummings his fingerprints all over it. It looks like the political strategy here is not just a squeeze parliament's options sion's but frankly to provoke the kind of outrage it has provoked is a goading strategy as well as a straightforward attempt to make it harder for the opposition to get its way and we must assume that everyone is preparing for the general election. That's coming in months possibly even weeks and it will be a people versus the parliament election from the boris johnson coming side yeah. I think the other thing that you have to bear in mind is this as always he's has done involves the european union and that i would say that boris johnson's preference would still be to try to proceed with an orderly brexit. Ah we some changes to the withdrawal agreement that parliament would then except by the thirty first of october now. There's got to be some questions about even even if he was able to get an agreement that he thought was satisfactory the e._u. Summit in the middle of october whether there would still be enough legislative time in order to get the withdrawal agreement under political declaration through the house of commons birth leaving that question aside. I think that one of the things he wants wants to do with the actions yesterday and i agree with david that this is a lot to do with dominant coming. I'm thinking is to try to convince the e you that. Parliament is not in the and an impediment to the u._k. Leaving without an agreement because unless there's any favorite tool on the e._u. Side that no deal might be the outcome. There isn't any possibility of doing anything that will change the agreement or the political declaration in any way that would make getting withdrawal agreement through parliament possible david. You said that it wasn't overstatement to call this a coup. Obviously not the very strong word. Is this a constitutional crisis. Will what's happened. Make sense sense in terms of the british constitution. I didn't think it's the case that the boris johnson government straightforwardly has done anything unlawful. I mean there was some thought that the queen ought to have resisted. There's a kind of irony here comparison with the united states where people on the left find themselves hoping that the f._b._i. Would rescue them from donald trump and in britain people on the left a now thinking that the queen is going to rescue them from boris johnson. She's not she did her constitutional duty which is to follow the advice of her ministers on questions of prerogative power and that's what this is. It's going to reach the courts already in scotland legal action is underway may eventually reach the supreme court and i'll supreme court's not quite like yours not least it's a very new institution known quite knows what will happen and when it does reach the courts they will be deep constitutional implications but i think for now it is more of a political crisis than a constitutional crisis but it is a real political crisis because it has set parliament against the executive and the stakes are very high and the stakes are very high for the people involved and they are very high for boris johnson but whatever he does the stakes are high because he's committed to leave in your opinion on the thirty first of october do-or-die so the options listen to him or do or die. Helen visit all very interesting from political science perspective but also a little amusing given that a monarch is pretty foreign to americans. Is there a sense that the queen was inappropriately brought into the quagmire of brexit politics and i think that she that she has been thus far for the reason that david said is is that she's acting on the advice of her ministers. I think that what we have seen from some point earlier. In the year is that in different ways and at different times both sides or some people i should say on both sides have constructed some idea in which the queen is going to do you know ride to save them from what they think of as a as a terrible fate either of of brexit being defeated or exit happening and i it's it's just implausible to think that the queen who has been an extremely effective monarch for a very long period of time is going to politicize the monarchy in this way on either side in a moment of of national crisis. It's simply not going to happen. I mean you could say aside from anything else. The monarchy's got quite a number of other problems at the moment without throwing itself into this. This is the one thing i would say there is there is a possibility here that where this is going to lead it may not happen but it could lead to vote of no confidence in the government and if the the government fools and there is an attempt to create a new government sir innocence. If there are no ministers to advise the queen i mean there will always be someone in post but if that person's persons authority has gone then it does become more of an acute political question what the monarchy decides there are at least potential scenarios in which the choice of the the next prime minister preceding a general election does draw the queen or her non ministerial advisors into politics. It's still pretty remote. That's the only way it's going to happen. The thing that's never ever gonna happen ever is that the queen refuses to follow the advice of her constitutionally appointed prime minister that would be suicide for the monarchy look if she's not going to do it so to be a little far fetched momentarily. According to britain's constitutional monarchy is is there any role that the queen theoretically could play in resolving what clearly seems like a political crisis in the sense that there's a popular mandate to leave the european union and not the political tools to make it happen in an orderly way in theory. Is there any role that the queen could play in this now. I mean the only question i think would be at the moment if there was general action on there. Were another hung parliament. What the queen would do or could do in relation to who it was the next prime minister because if you go back to the general election of february nineteen seventy four she actually asked ted heath who was the incumbent prime minister. I have ago forming a new government. Even though that the conservative party was no longer the largest party in the in the the house of uncommon some people think that's the newest queens come to making some kind of of political decision regard to prime ministers but i think that in the circumstances announces that we will be looking at after a hung parliament then it's quite difficult to see a replay of one thousand nine hundred four in action. I think the queen is probably probably a distraction in this issue. The resolution of this crisis is political. Crisis is going to come in one or two ways. He's going to happen in parliament. Oh there's going to be a general election and the general election will change the political landscape is the case. There's been a lot of complaining from the people who are outraged by what boris johnson has done has prevented parliament from having say but this parliament has spent a lot of the last three years having say and it's not really go anywhere and that is is a big part of the problem. Parliament itself is fundamentally divided. The political parties are divided is a very fractured landscape within the house of commons. It's very hard to see any lasting resolution to the brexit crisis without a new parliament and a new parliament only comes about after general election the queen she can prorogue this parliament but the one that meets after the queen's speech is the same people anyway you change the personality vote them out. She can't do that all right so now that we've gotten the fun queen related questions out of the way back to back to reality. What are the possibilities going forward. Is this suspension this proroguing a foregone conclusion could not happen at all and then also what is the opposition party likely to do or try to do in response well. I'd be very surprised if they can be a successful legal challenge to the pariagua parliament. I mean i don't rule out because said so. Many things on various podcasts turned out not to be yeah right. They're not going to put this caveat into anything. I'm going to <hes> to say about this.