Who wields power?
The United Kingdom, the country from which we have inherited our major constitutional and political practices and statutes, is itself in the midst of a deep constitutional and political crisis. It sounds like irony but the reality is that the country, idolized in some quarters as being the home of “The Mother of all Parliaments” is in a deep tangle brought about by its own Parliament and seemingly incapable of extricating itself.
The crisis is rooted in the attempt to withdraw from the European Union. It led to a fierce campaign leading up to a referendum held in June 2016; 51per cent of those casting their ballots backed the proposal to leave the EU.
However unravelling the complicated relationship and agreeing on new relations have proven to be far more difficult. In the process it has cost two Prime Ministers their jobs and a third is tethering on the verge of losing his too. That is not all, for the issue has bitterly divided British society, threatens to tear the UK apart, and has opened deep splits within the traditional political parties and within both the ruling class and the working people.
Political chaos is the order of the day and this is best exemplified in the British Parliament itself. Former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned on principle after his position was defeated and his place was taken by his Home Secretary, Theresa May who had also voted to “Remain”, but vowed to abide by the referendum and to lead an orderly exit. Eventhough, under great duress, she negotiated a deal with the EU, her own party refused to back her, Parliament rejected the deal and she was stabbed in the back, politically, by her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. She too was forced to demit office and Johnson replaced her promising to depart the EU by October 31, deal or no deal.
But the British political landscape has changed drastically since the referendum. Opinions are not just for or against leaving, the terms and conditions and future relations are now on the table.
Both significant sections of the capitalist class as well as the working people have express grave concern about a chaotic withdrawal. However Johnson, backed by the hawks of the “leave” camp and hoping for some close relationship with Donald Trump’s administration, is pressing ahead at all costs.
It has brought him into conflict with Parliament, including some former Cabinet Ministers whom he has fired. Meeting resistance to his reckless approach, he went even further and advised Queen Elizabeth to suspend Parliament for five weeks, to avoid any opposition. His plan has backfired though and his rebel MPs have joined the Opposition benches to take control of Parliament and to insist that the UK must not leave by October 31 unless there is a deal, agreed by Parliament.
It led to an intriguing legal fight over which is supreme, the Executive or Parliament, and to the unprecedented step of the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest Court, adjudicating on the matter. It has ruled in favour of Parliament, allowing Parliament to resume, and the charade goes on.
The matter has raised very serious constitutional and political questions which cannot be dealt with here but which will be the subject of debates and discussions for decades to come. At the root of it all, there is not only the fundamental question of which arm ultimately wields power, but also how vaunted ambitions of politicians can create havoc in society. It is a lesson from which we should learn.