The challenge to Royal authority

The sovereignty of Parliament, the sovereignty of the monarch, the sovereignty of the people or the sovereignty of God?

Donald Boyd

Her Majesty the Queen gave authority to prorogue the UK Parliament.

This was resisted by two unsuccessful legal challenges and it did not stop opposition MPs in the House of Commons objecting to Her Majesty’s summons to attend the House of Lords to prorogue Parliament, to which retiring Speaker John Bercow gave encouragement and asserted that “this is not, however, a normal prorogation” and “it represents an act of executive fiat”. Some of the chaotic and unprecedented scenes in the House of Commons are in this video. Let the public watch and make up its own mind.

Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader in the House of Commons, is seen in the video vigorously shaking the hand of the Speaker as he left the Commons. This is the same Ian Blackford who called on members “to show restraint, to act in a dignified manner and to show respect to each other” two hours earlier in an evening that ended in chaos with opposition MPs shouting “Shame on you” at Tory MPs when they obeyed Her Majesty’s command through Black Rod to attend the House of Lords Prorogation of Parliament.

Similar doublespeak was seen on 27 Aug 2019 when Blackford told the BBC news that the opposition attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit was their exercise of Parliamentary sovereignty. He commented: “The UK is a parliamentary democracy – parliamentary sovereignty – parliamentarians have the power to stop this.” However, SNP doctrine is that sovereignty resides in the people and argue that ‘the people of Scotland’ voted to stay in the EU. The SNP believe in the sovereignty of the people but they are happy to use the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament to promote its own agenda.

The leader of the Lib Dems Jo Swinson spoke of “the braying, the bluster” as an unedifying spectacle at the beginning of the above debate on a Government Bill calling for a General Election. It was, in the event, quite insignificant compared to the mayhem at the end of the evening, orchestrated by the opposition benches to which both Ian Blackford and Jo Swinson belong.

A week earlier, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow permitted a Bill that ignores the sovereignty of the people in the Brexit Referendum in pursuit of the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. Parliament ‘taking back control’ is not control from the Government but taking back control from the people.

It is evident that there is a conflict of ‘sovereignties’ and Royal sovereignty is almost gone in the UK. The EU is threatening the very borders of the UK in Northern Ireland, and the SNP is threatening the unity of the UK.

The glib comments by politicians who supported remaining in the EU about the necessity, utility and inevitability of ‘ceding’ sovereignty to the European Union has disguised the fact that it has taken over all the other sovereignties. Let Queen and country take note.


10 Sep 2019: BBC reports the chaos.

11 Sep 2019: Scotland’s highest civil court the Court of Session has decided that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was wrongly motivated in proroguing Parliament and thus acted unlawfully. The BBC reported that they were unanimous in their belief. Belief? Has it come to this, that subjective opinion forms the basis of legal judgments? No wonder if it is so, because subjectivism permeates equalities legislation, and it would be little wonder if it is taking over other areas of law. It is wrong. Law should be objective and decisions should be objective.

In determining that the Prime Minister was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymieing Parliament” (The Andrew Neil Show #andrewneilshow), it seems that the three Court of Session judges can read the Prime Minister’s mind. Is this the function of the justiciary?

A new relationship is beginning to develop between parliament and the justiciary. The concept of judicial review of parliament develops a further and new locus of sovereignty in ‘the law as interpreted by judges’. This changing relationship began during Theresa May’s administration, which was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court.

On the contrary, the Scottish judge Lord Doherty’s view was that it was for MPs and the electorate to judge the prime minister’s actions rather than the courts. He was correct. This was also the view of the English High Court in London in its recent judgment on the same subject. These conflicting views will be adjudicated through the appeals to the Supreme Court on 17 Sep 2019.

In theory, the opposition could carry on running Parliament as a result of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which has had the unintended consequence of preventing a minority Government being able to resign and call a General Election. Alan Duncan MP pointed out this weakness and hoped this Act would be the first casualty of a new Government. It has enabled and promoted the parliamentary indiscipline and chaos in the current parliamentary session.

The UK is moving away from a parliamentary democracy with ‘the Queen in Parliament’ towards an American-style constitution. Having followed America in so many respects, celebrity politics and presidential-style leadership, this might now be ‘par for the course’. The desire to have a second EU referendum and the fear of having a general election demonstrates the lack of confidence among the current ‘Remain’ parliamentarians to test the people’s choice of new parliamentarians.

19 Sep 2019: the decision of the High Court in Belfast along the lines of the English rather than the Scottish court was more or less ignored by the BBC. I only noticed it today online. This link gives a useful list of political shenanigans that are considered to be outside the remit of the law. The BBC is failing the nation, just like the national churches.

29 Oct 2019: Sir Bill Cash M.P. reminds the House of Commons of his opposition to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act since before its passing, predicting the chaos that would follow.

19 Dec 2019: Prime Minister Boris Johnston announced in the Queen’s Speech debate that as a first step in restoring trust in our democracy, the Government will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

25 Dec 2019: legislation to repeal the Fixed-term Parliament Act.

2 Jan 2021: Brexit has restored sovereignty to the UK monarch but Nigel Farage has not been honoured by the monarch for services to the UK and to democracy. The remaining question is if the Supreme Court is going to usurp the sovereignty of both monarch and the Parliament.

9 Nov 2021: challenge in public debate.

24 Mar 2022: the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliament Act has now received the Royal Assent. Boris has ‘taken back control’ to the UK Parliament yet again.

Mar 2020: historian David Starkey reviews the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in The Critic.

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