Is It Legal?

With British politics in disarray, we try to sort out what's a stake - legally, constitutionally and electorally. Can Johnson refuse to do what parliament demands? Can Corbyn get the election he wants? What is Dominic Cummings playing at? And how much is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to blame for the mess? Plus we explore the likely choices ahead for voters and politicians and we ask the big question lying behind all the drama: is this a question of politics or is it a matter of law? With Helen Thompson and Kenneth Armstrong.

Talking Points:

What was Johnson trying to achieve with prorogation? 

  • Deliberately provoking the opposition? Making it look like Parliament had been defeated to push the EU to work toward another agreement? 

A lot is going wrong for the government right now and it is struggling get to the general election it wants to fight.

  • Helen thinks that the actual goal is an orderly exit from the EU.
  • But people don’t believe Johnson when he says he is serious about getting a deal.

Corbyn says that the opposition wants a general election, but only after no deal has been ruled out.

  • But if the election takes place in mid-October and Johnson wins a majority, he could overturn any legislation outlawing a no deal.
  • Parliament could still revoke Article 50. This might be the best case scenario for Johnson because he could then have a Parliament vs. the people election.
  • The assumption seems to be that the government cannot be replaced, but it also can’t do what it wants to do.
  • Everyone seems to be trying to tie someone’s hands, but how do you create the politics where you can actually do things?

At some point there will be a general election: the government is framing it as a choice on Brexit. 

  • May tried to do that in 2017 and failed. 
  • But Johnson isn’t May, and he’s running on a more populist, anti-austerity platform.
  • What does Labour want to fight this election on? Would they fare better in a Brexit or non-Brexit election?
  • The Lib Dems are in a very different position this time.

This is an unusual government: the stories about Dominic Cummings are damaging, but it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.

  • A referendum is very different than a general election.  

Mentioned in this episode:

Further Learning: 

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:


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