When the Chips are Down, out goes Democracy
Our hearts and minds are very much with the battered people of the Bahamas, a member of our Caribbean Community of nations, in their hour of grief after the devastation by hurricane Dorian. The intensity of the storm, which at one time threatened our own country, is yet another brutal reminder of the destructive effects of climate change, a major contributing factor in both the frequency and intensity of such storms. It represents for us the shrill ringing of a wake-up call.
Even as Dorian rages on this side of the Atlantic, another storm, political in nature but with grave economic and social implications, is causing havoc on the other side of the “pond”. Nicknamed “Hurricane Boris”, after current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this political storm is not only tearing British society apart, it is gnawing away at the once hallowed tenets of the Westminster parliamentary system.
For students of politics the developments in the British Parliament make for intriguing study. Here is a supposed “mature democracy” of hundreds of years of experience unable to solve a major problem of its own making. The charge led by the Conservative party and fuelled by right-wing, and racist, nationalism for a breakaway from the European Union, the so-called Brexit, is taking a heavy toll on British democracy.
A referendum was held on the matter in 2016, won by those advocating “leave”, but with no clarity on the terms of departure, the outcome was very much reminiscent of our own ill-fated constitutional referendum of 2009. Influenced by lies and deceit, many who voted appeared not too sure how they were to get to the promised destination. As a result, confusion has been the hallmark of British politics since then, bringing about the demise of former Prime Minister Theresa May who, while agreeing to a deal with the European Union, failed to please her own hawks.
In stepped the ambitious Boris Johnson, once Ms. May’s own Foreign Secretary, riding the “leave at all costs” horse. But the ambition and agenda of the Johnson administration has resulted in actions which have horrified those who hold the principles of British parliamentary democracy very sacred. Mr. Johnson has lost every parliamentary vote thus far, and frustrated in his bid to ride roughshod over Parliament, has taken actions which are tantamount to undermining the very democracy to which he is sworn.
As the deadline for Brexit rapidly approaches, instead of seeking parliamentary consensus and compromise on a deal, he has prorogued Parliament and attempted to sideline its role in the process.
Worse, he has virtually kicked out those long-standing members of his own party who have disagreed with him and actually did not support him in Parliament. And, he is now attempting to force an election a mere fortnight before Brexit, with no further clarity on its terms and implications.
These present serious challenges to the basic assumptions of Westminster parliamentary democracy. Brexit itself and the terms under which it is implemented have grave implications for the people of Britain, for the future of the United Kingdom, for the European Union and for countries like ours with historical and legal ties with both the European Union and the United Kingdom.
What message do we get from the machinations in the corridors of British democracy? That Parliament is expendable if leaders seek to impose their own will? That “when the chips are down, out goes democracy”?