Did Boris Johnson Just Rope-a-Dope His Way into a Hard Brexit?
As of Friday, September 6, an extension of three months to prevent the U.K. leaving the E.U. without a deal passed the Houses of Commons and Lords. In order for that legislation to become law, there must be consent by the monarch — in this case, Queen Elizabeth II. Once she assents, the bill becomes law.
While most everyone is considering her assent a formality on Monday, it should not quite yet be considered a fait accompli. The queen can lawfully refuse assent or delay her approval, which would effectively veto the bill and keep it from becoming law, thereby paving the way to a No Deal Brexit on October 31.
There are two occasions when the monarch can and should, according to most academic experts in the matter, refuse assent.
According to Anne Twomey, professor of constitutional law at the the University of Sydney in her book The Veiled Sceptre, the first occasion is that where a "serious error is discovered in the bill." No one is arguing that there is an error in the Remainers' meticulously crafted bill of extension.
But the second occasion in relation to royal assent, "the predominant academic view ... is that the Sovereign ... must act upon the advice of responsible ministers."
Professor of public law at the University of Glasgow School of Law Adam Tomkins concurs. From his book Public Law: "If the monarch were given clear and firm Prime Ministerial advice that she should withhold her royal assent to a Bill which had passed through the Houses of Parliament, it seems to be the case that the monarch should follow that advice."
As Robert Craig noted, Twomey uses the example of where a new government that has the confidence of the House and "objects to a bill passed ... by a defeated predecessor ... then its advice to refuse assent to a bill should be accepted."
While this is not the exact set of circumstances the U.K. is facing, Boris Johnson has demonstrated he has the confidence of the House, triumphantly pointing out that "this is the first time in history that the opposition has voted to show confidence in Her Majesty's government" by refusing to allow an election and refusing to table a vote of no confidence. Now all that's left is for Johnson to give clear and firm advice to the queen, who should then refuse to assent to the opposition's legislation to stop a No Deal Brexit.
If this is indeed BoJo's strategy, the U.K. Parliament has cut off its nose to spite its face. Hyper-leftist and self-avowed Marxist Jeremy Corbyn, opposition leader of the Labor Party, has gleefully led this self-mutilation, stating, "When No Deal is off the table, once and for all, we should go back to the people in a public vote or a General Election to decide our country's future."
Using the limited time the U.K. Parliament had to address the possibility of a No Deal Brexit, Corbyn, the other opposition parties, and 21 Tories clearly decided to spend their few days left in Parliament obsessed with passing a law that demands that BoJo, against his own will and government, ask the E.U. for an extension of Article 50 until January 31, 2020.
But Johnson may have been way ahead of them. He launched the epic play by proroguing parliament, which is basically closing the current Parliament session, until mid-October with the queen's approval. This means that all Parliament business must be concluded by Monday (or at latest Thursday). Once proroguing had occurred, the Remainers went into a Boris-induced tizzy to make sure a law was passed to stop him from taking the U.K. out of the E.U. without a deal on October 31, as long as no deal had been reached with the E.U. by October 19.
This is precisely where the PM has likely wanted them all along. Employing a "rope a dope" strategy, Johnson has effectively forced Parliament to use all the time left, now that the proroguing has occurred and been declared legal by the U.K. courts, to mire itself in passing the Article 50 extension law. Like the boxer Muhammad Ali, who made rope-a-dope famous, BoJo leaned back into parliament's ropes and took hit after hit, causing the opponents to not only wear themselves out, but provide time for him to get ready for his final counter-punch.
If the above analysis is correct, Johnson's knockout blow is happening now, as he meets the queen this weekend in order to clearly and firmly advise the queen to withhold assent.
Beautifully orchestrating and executing his stratagem, BoJo will have outwitted his opponents again in this well thought out fight plan by 1) forcing the opposition to spend the very short time they had to stop a No Deal Brexit mired in creating the extension legislation, then 2) sifting out the twenty-one traitors within his own Tory Party who voted against him, while at the same time 3) casually scheduling a meeting with the queen this weekend in order that 4) he can quietly advise the Queen not to assent to the bill he has called the "surrender" bill.
His opponents were so busy patting themselves on the back for their seemingly witty and unstoppable legislative efforts to thwart the will of the U.K.'s people (who voted 52% to 48% to leave the E.U. in 2016), heaping insults, lies, and half-truths on the prime minister and arguing among themselves how to take power, that they failed to see that Boris was, like any great boxer, simply setting them up.
His arguments to the queen are strong. First, a group of disingenuous Tory traitors betrayed the government by voting with the non-government opposition. The U.K. system is a parliamentary government, not a system of parliamentary rule. The queen can reinforce this distinction by refusing assent upon receiving the P.M.'s advice, proving that the government elected by the people ultimately has the power.
Second, extensions have been passed before under Theresa May, but to no avail in bringing the U.K. to a better deal with the E.U. What good would another extension to January 31, 2020 bring? Even France's President Macron agrees here and has indicated he'll veto an extension anyway. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is also under pressure to veto any request for an extension. Any one of the 27 E.U. member-leaders can veto an extension, thereby virtually assuring a No Deal Brexit on October 31.
Finally, the current House of Commons has tacitly given its vote of confidence to Boris Johnson as prime minister by not agreeing to an election and not tabling a motion of no confidence. The Commons chose instead to focus on creating legislation that is opposed by the government, thereby giving Johnson an effective argument that the government was defied, not rejected.
And so we'll know in the next few days if this was the plan all along. For if the prime minister is truly committed to his promise to bring the U.K. out of the E.U. on October 31, he'll advise the queen to refuse the bill. In accordance with the unwritten constitution of the U.K., the queen will agree with her prime minister's advice.
If the queen agrees, Boris Johnson will have turned the Remainers' nightmarish Halloween Day extension ploy into a historic Reformation Day, indeed.
Mark Hanna holds an M.A. in international studies and has provided briefings to government officials on immigration, radical Islam, and other national security issues. He has worked for CNN as well as NBC and PBS affiliates and has been published in Real Clear Politics, PJMedia, ZeroHedge, and The Investigative Project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.