The fact that the Prime Minister of the UK was found by a Scottish court to have lied to the Queen has failed to make it to the front page of most British newspapers. Which is fair enough, it’s not the first time he’s lied to a woman, and it probably won’t be the last. More likely it’s not front page news because it was only a Scottish court that found that he’d lied, and not a really important proper English court. Strictly speaking of course, he didn’t lie to the Queen, and even if he had done that wouldn’t have been the most egregious outcome of his decision to press ahead with an illegal prorogation.
The Prime Minister didn’t go to the monarch to ask for a prorogation. That was Jacob Rees Mogg. However Jacob was acting as an agent of the Prime Minister, and so when it’s said that the Prime Minister didn’t lie to the head of state, it’s only because he got someone else to do the lying for him. He’s still responsible for the lie. And lying to Liz isn’t any worse in the cosmic scheme of things than lying to anyone else. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson lies all the time. He has a giveaway, a tell, which allows all of us to know exactly when he’s lying. You know he’s lying because his lips are moving.
The real thing that ought to be getting a suspiciously quiescent media up in arms is that the Prime Minister, the leader of the British Government, was prepared to lie in order to escape the scrutiny of the Commons on a policy which he knows he doesn’t have majority support for. He is only supposed to exercise the Royal Prerogative in the first place because he is meant to command a majority in the Commons. Yet he’s prorogued Parliament precisely because he doesn’t have such a majority. That’s the real outrage against democracy, not lying to the Queen – who in any case was probably relieved that it distracted from Prince Andrew’s dubious choice in friends. But lying to the Queen is a convenient shorthand for all that, because by making the request the way he did, in the manner in which he did, for the reasons he had, he was effectively lying to the Queen, as well as to everyone else.
The real scandal here is that he was able to do so. We can thank the Scottish courts for holding him to account, but should their ruling be overturned in the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday, British democracy will be in a very dark place. It would represent a very dangerous turn of events indeed. It would mean that any Prime Minister will be able to close down Parliament at any time, and for as long as he or she pleases, in order to escape the democratic scrutiny of the elected representatives of that people LBJ claims to be acting for. The Supreme Court would have given its assent to the transformation of the Prime Minister into a dictator.
Three judges in the highest Scottish court unanimously found that he had lied. It is a point of fact, a proven case, that he had lied even though the Government’s business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is trying to impugn the Scotttish judiciary by saying that many people think judges are biased. Meanwhile on Channel 4 news the Brextremist MP Andrew Bridgen also attempted to impugn the neutrality of Scots law, complaining about the “liberal elite” and saying that there was a suspicion that political pressure had been put on the Scottish judges. He openly wondered why it was a Scottish court which had come to this decision, not an English one.
The Government’s spokesapologists, and Court Certified Lyin Bastert Johnson himself, are also saying that the High Court in England found in his favour and agreed with him. He’s even lying about that. The High Court in London didn’t find that he hadn’t lied. The High Court in London ruled that the matter was one that was not justiciable, which is a great word for a crossword meaning an issue which is within the remit of the court and one it is competent to make a ruling on. The High Court decided that the subject was a matter for the Commons, not the courts, and so didn’t engage with any of the evidence. What this means is that according to English law, the suspension of parliament by an overweening government is a matter that can only be dealt with by the parliament that the government has suspended. If the Supreme Court upholds that interpretation, then the UK doesn’t have a constitution, it has a Joseph Heller novel.
The High Court specifically didn’t voice any opinion on the truth or otherwise of the accusation that the Government had lied to the Head of State, the Commons, and the public. The only courts which engaged with the evidence were the Scottishs Courts and the highest court in Scotland, the Court of Session, ruled mendax mendax bracae in igne. That’s how you say liar liar pants on fire when you’re a judge, especially when you’re a judge making a ruling on a liar who fancies himself as a scholar of the Classics.
The lies took another twist today when it came to light that the Scottish Government’s copy of the Yellowhammer report that the British Goverrnment reluctantly published last night says that the warnings represent a “base scenario”, whereas the version released by Whitehall claims they are a worse case scenario. This contradicts what the British Government has told Parliament. Michael Gove is one of those who has told Parliament that Yellowhammer is a “worst case scenario”. Knowingly telling a lie to Parliament is holding Parliament in contempt. No wonder the Government doesn’t want the Commons to be in session.
There are reports that the true worst case scenario documents, believed to be called by the code name Black Swan, are not being released by the Government. Former Tory MP Anna Soubry tweeted on Wednesday night that she had seen detailed documents. In August Michael Gove mocked the existence of any such documents, claiming that Black Swan was a movie about a ballet dancer.
Now a new court case has been brought by Joanna Cherry, Jo Maugham, and the businessman Dale Vince who is funding the case. They have applied directly to the Court of Session to request it to make use of a power of the court called nobile officium, a power which is unique to Scots law. This is the power of the court to intervene directly in order to ensure that the law is fulfilled. The case will, if it is successful, mean that the clerk of a Scottish court could sign a letter to the EU requesting an extension to Article 50 if the Prime Minister refuses to obey the law and do so himself. Unlike the previous case, which was against the British Government, this latest case is against LBJ personally. It’s not clear what sanctions would be taken against the Prime Minister, we can but hope it’s to be strung up by his nobile officiums.
According to The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland (see http://www.journalonline.co.uk/Magazine/60-12/1021064.aspx#.XXqE3mZ7nIU ) there are four conditions which must be met before the court will exercise the power of nobile officium. Firstly there should be some exceptional or unforeseen circumstances. Secondly, “there should be a sense of urgency, injustice or need justifying an extraordinary response from the court.” Thirdly, the petition must not contravene statutory intention, or be used in such a way as to extend the scope of a statutory provision, or to require a person to act contrary to their statutory duties. And fourthly, there should be no other remedy available to the petitioner. It remains to be seen whether the Court of Session believes all four of these conditions to have been met.
Whatever happens, whether in this latest court case by Joanna Cherry, or what happens in the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday, we’re in for a bumpy ride. And there we were thinking that once the House of Commons was suspended for five weeks that not much would be happening.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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