Donald Trump Boris Johnson impeachment Brexit parliament prorogue
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (Images: AAP)


It’s a transatlantic double-header, with the US Democrat leadership finally beginning impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, and the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruling that the proroguing of parliament was null and void. It’s almost too much happening at once. Let’s try to get through it.

To Brexit first, which happened yesterday morning in the UK. In a unanimous judgment of 11-0, the Supreme Court (a replacement for the Law Lords, created by the Blair government) ruled on appeals against judgments in England and Scotland.

The English court judgment had ruled that prorogation was not justiciable, purely a matter for the executive. The Scottish court held that it was, and that Johnson’s five-week prorogation had been illegal. It was this judgement the Supreme Court upheld. Indeed they have said that prorogation actually never occurred, and that parliament was still in session. Following the announcement, speaker John Bercow announced it would sit from 11.30 am Wednesday (8.30pm Australian east-coast time). Boris Johnson flew back from the US after saying he would accept the court’s judgment but that he disagrees with it.

The unanimity of the judgment — which hinged on a Scottish document of right saying that parliament must not be impeded from sitting — from a large bench leaves the Tories and Brexiteers with little political wiggle room. Two of the judges (Lords Reed and Carnwath) had dissented from a 2017 judgment in the article 50 case, a judgment that compelled the government to ratify EU withdrawal in parliament. Their lack of dissent here is telling.

In response, Jeremy Corbyn moved forward his Labour conference speech (forestalling a dissenting speech from his deputy Tom Watson) and called on Johnson to resign. Lib Dems leader Jo Swinson concurred. Johnson didn’t, but what he will do remains in question. Technically, he could prorogue parliament again, but at that point the system would break entirely.

Either the Queen would have to make an active choice as to whether to grant the request, or parliament would simply refuse to dissolve. He could stage a no-confidence motion against himself (Labour refuses to give him one), but there would then be 14 days for parliament to form an alternative govt — unlikely, as non-Labour won’t accept Corbyn, and Corbyn won’t support a caretaker PM that’s not him. The Commons will now take control of the order paper and run in continuous session, with the government in a minority of 50 on a no-deal Brexit.

With Boris’ tough-it-out act coming to a crunch, the Donald was getting the same treatment across the Atlantic. More on this tomorrow, but the gist is that Trump appears to have been extraordinarily lax on political and national matters, using a single phone call to urge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of the Biden family in Ukraine, at the threat of withdrawal of many millions in aid investment.

Trump says the two are unconnected — PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! — and that he will release a transcript of the call in question. That may be causing sheer panic among others in the White House, since Trump’s idea of what constitutes exculpatory evidence is not as others see it, and he struggles with the concept of national interest.

Following Robert Mueller’s inconclusive testimony on his report into Trump’s election campaign, Trump said he would not hesitate to seek foreign intel on rivals and went right out and did it. This is either a strategy to maximise Democrats’ focus on such matters; to present Trump to the base as a perpetual insurgent; or it’s incredibly dumb, just stupid. It has certainly forced Democrat House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand — having resisted calls to impeach since the midterms, she knows that a public movement for it would target the Dems, and her speakership would be in jeopardy.

Both of these blustering big boys have come a cropper. Institutionally the Donald is in a better position, the presidency essentially an elected monarchy. But his crimes and misdemeanours may be greater than Boris’ blundering. Yet it is the latter who may have wrought more change, the court’s decision rearranging British power irrevocably and opening the way for a written constitution.

In both cases, it is an extraordinary example of political decadence. The wide arch of the Atlantic alliance, on which the whole edifice of Western imperialism is being undermined on both sides by a right determined to hold onto domestic power at any cost. The opportunities for global realignment now lie wide open.

Cripes! Phwoar! FAKE NEWS!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey