Coming to work this morning, I passed eight bodies huddled in doorways, homeless people bedded down with sleeping bags and blankets. One of them had laid yesterday’s newspapers under him. The front page headline showed Prince Andrew, with a much smaller sidebar about Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament.
Is Brexit, and the current constitutional manoeuvres, really a small sidebar to the main issues facing our country? That’s appears to be the what the Prime Minister argues when he says that prorogation will allow for a Queen’s Speech bringing in legislation on the key issues facing our country.
But the decision to prorogue Parliament at a time of immense national, economic and international change makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.
Stopping Parliament from questioning the Government’s actions
This is not a coup or a dictatorship, as some unhelpfully claim. It is, however, a manoeuvre which restricts Parliament’s ability to question or challenge the Government’s policy on Brexit. It is always concerning when Governments seek to avoid scrutiny, but trying to avoid scrutiny at this moment of huge importance is extraordinary.
Prorogation not only restricts the House from sitting, but also stops parliamentary questions from being put down or answered and stops Select Committees from taking evidence. In effect Parliament’s ability to question the Government’s actions is brought to a halt.
The Courts will decide if this constitutional tactic is within the letter of the law. But the device, and the justifications given out in the media, certainly don’t obey the spirit.
The Bible doesn’t have much to say about parliamentary democracy. But it says quite a bit about legalism, and the danger of fulfilling the letter of the law but not showing love. And it says a lot about poverty.
This biblical command to care for the poorest and weakest in society is precisely why, last month, 10 Church leaders wrote to Boris Johnson about the impact of a No Deal Brexit on the poorest in society. This was not a letter for or against Brexit. Rather it was a letter about poverty.
Given all the evidence that leaving the EU without a deal would be most damaging to those who could least bear the brunt of it, Church leaders asked the Prime Minister to share the evidence behind his government’s assertion that it would not be harmful.
This is what they wrote:
The impacts of a no-deal Brexit are at best highly uncertain, and at worst deeply worrying. Our view that it would put at risk the welfare and safety of the poorest communities in the UK is formed on the basis of the best available evidence, including our presence in local communities in every part of the UK . It is notable that assurances about our ability to cope with a no-deal Brexit, while frequent, are yet to be supported by substantial evidence.
Evidence-free dismissals of well-founded concerns are at this stage both dangerous and inappropriate. Your Government’s willingness to embrace a no-deal Brexit places upon it a responsibility to demonstrate that the most vulnerable in our communities, those locked in poverty, will not be harmed.
As yet, the Church leaders have not received a reply.
Ensuring that families locked in poverty are not ignored
The evidence we have seen suggests that a No Deal Brexit could be incredibly harmful. The proroguing of Parliament undoubtedly makes this route more likely. But it also means that Parliament cannot fulfil its function of holding the executive to account.
It is simply unacceptable that Government’s assurances about the welfare of the poorest families come without evidence and are now not to be scrutinised in Parliament.
For the man sleeping in the doorway, and the many millions like him who cannot live a decent life in today’s Britain, the risks of a No Deal Brexit cannot be a minor sidebar issue.
This is why I will be writing to my MP today, asking her to contact the Prime Minister urgently asking that he responds to the Church Leaders’ request to publish evidence about the impacts on the poorest of a No Deal Brexit without delay. Could you do so too?