by Martin Odoni

With the prorogation of Parliament this week being ruled illegal, there is inevitable discussion of whether it should be reconvened now, or after the appeal in the Supreme Court is heard on Tuesday.

These discussions, however, lead on to an edgier question; precisely what sanction, if any, should be imposed on the Prime Minister to penalise his actions. Boris Johnson has not only imposed a deeply irregular, and clearly excessive, suspension onto Parliament, but he is also talking openly of disobeying the orders Parliament has given him, suggesting that he is only compelled by them “in theory”. Given that the most important instruction – that he must seek a fresh extension to Article 50 if he is unable to secure a new Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union by the 19th of October – was actually made law by the passage of the Benn-Burt Bill, Johnson’s words are an effective declaration that he considers himself to be above the law. (A threat in no way alleviated by Kwasi Kwarteng’s fudging comments on the BBC this week.)

There is a case therefore for arguing that we should forget what penalties to dish out to Johnson for the time being, and instead focus just on how he can be stopped at all. If he is allowed to carry on as he is, then the United Kingdom will have taken the most critical step towards a real dictatorship. For if the precedent is set that the Prime Minister is not bound by the law, or by the sovereignty of Parliament, then, rather by definition, there will be nothing that he/she is not allowed to do.

On prorogation, interesting arguments have been raised that the Court of Session’s ruling is enough alone to make Johnson’s position untenable. On the extension to Article 50, EU expert David Allen Green has warned that Johnson would potentially face a custodial sentence should he fail to implement the Benn-Burt Bill, as he would be guilty of misconduct in a public office.

The question remains however as to who should enforce both Johnson’s removal, and his punishment. It seems unthinkable on present indicators that he will simply step down because someone else told him to, no matter how strong the case they make for him to do so. It is doubtful that Johnson would even hear the case out. As is well-recorded, attention-span is not one of his strong points, and it is clearly vastly exceeded by his ambitiousness.

I would cautiously suggest that the first direction to turn is the Head of the British State, the reigning monarch. She does technically have the power to dismiss a Prime Minister. Now for a constitutional monarchy to work, the Queen must remain politically impartial at all times, intervening in no way in matters of Government policy, so the obvious retort would be that if she tried to step in she may have to abdicate. But there are several reasons why I do not think this is much of a consideration.

Firstly, the reality is that the Queen has been on the throne since 1952, and she is now in her 90s. I therefore suspect that, as a deterrent, the threat of being forced to surrender the crown will probably have lost a lot of its sting by now. After being a voiceless political headpiece for nearly seven decades, she would have every right to feel fed up of the whole business by now, and therefore sacrificing her position for the sake of ridding her kingdom of an over-mighty leader would be a small price to pay.

Secondly, and far more importantly, it may have stemmed from a Government policy, but prorogation in itself is not a political matter. As soon as Johnson moved to prorogue Parliament, he turned it into a constitutional matter instead, and now that he has been found to have lied to the Head of State in order to bring it about, the constitutional and legal grounds are entirely on the Queen’s side. Assuming that the Supreme Court upholds the judgement of the Court of Session next week, then she will have a confirmed legal finding to support her case. The main question mark over her taking action would be whether she has the courage, or the energy, to dare.

This doubt is because, were the Queen to make an attempt to fire Johnson, there will definitely be pushback, especially from Conservative politicians hysterically crying out that she is violating the constitution. The hypocrisy of that would be as aggravating as it would be counter-productive, but it is hard to picture Brexiteer extremists like Michael Gove or Jacob Rees-Mogg accepting it with equanimity. There is also the worry that Johnson might still refuse to go, citing the requirement for Royal impartiality, even though that impartiality is required on political matters, not constitutional ones. At that point, force of some description would have to come into play.

Queen v Boris

Thanks to Boris Johnson’s over-reaching arrogance, different parts of the British state are in conflict in ways not seen since the 17th Century. In that era, they led to a massive series of civil wars.

As a country, the UK really is in murky, unexplored territory. We are already mired in a stand-off between Downing Street and Parliament, and it could lead on to a confrontation between Queen and Prime Minister. I am as uneasy about the consequences of the Queen winning it as I am of Johnson doing so. Either outcome would establish a precedent allowing powers for an individual that, I believe, no one person should ever be allowed to wield.