On Sunday I attended the “Judges’ Service” held at Worth Abbey. The Circuit Court Judges and Presiding Judge of the South East Circuit were present joined by Civic leaders from across Sussex, the Police, Coroner, Fire Service and MPs. The origin of the service is ancient. Its purpose was and remains to remind us all of the centrality of Justice in our state.
When I read some of the extremely alarming resolutions passed at political conferences (including Brighton this week) which could have profound knock-on consequences if allowed to be carried forward, I am all the more grateful to live in a state where the Rule of Law is paramount.
This does not mean that one has to agree with every judgement. I am not a lawyer but personally on the issue of Prorogation I agreed with the unanimous verdict of the High Court (presided over by the Lord Chief Justice) and for that matter the “Outer Court” of Scotland who both found in the Government’s favour. I was very disappointed that the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion. However the Supreme Court ruled as they did and I write this article on Tuesday evening in Westminster having immediately returned to Parliament following the judgement.
I am above all disappointed that the return of Parliament inevitably means less time focussed on negotiating with our real counter-parts – the European Union - working to agree a deal that Parliament can scrutinise and, I hope, agree.
It remains to be seen what the Commons will do with its extra debating time. It also remains to be seen how our constitution will evolve given a series of innovations undreamed of as recently as a year ago. One irony is that it’s the more recent written component – the Fixed Term Parliament Act – that gives rise to in many ways the greatest strain.
It used to be very simple. A Government governed. The Commons could dismiss a Government in which it lacked confidence. The Commons could throw out new laws proposed by the Government. However if on a critical issue a Government said it had to get its way and the Commons refused the Government had a right to “go to the country” and ask them to decide in a General Election.
On a central plank of the Government’s policy Parliament is saying “no” but it is also preventing the Government from holding an election. This is unsustainable, especially as Parliament has no alternative proposition.
I continue to cleave to the view that the best way to unite the country – the majority that voted to Leave and the large minority that voted to Remain – is via a deal under which we leave the EU but retain a valuable close economic (and security) relationship from day one. Had Parliament voted the same way as I did earlier this year we would already have left and left on good terms.
Despite all the distractions I believe a better deal may be achievable through the current negotiations – whether Parliament wishes to accept it remains to be seen.