Shutting down parliament
New book reminds us which MP first suggested prorogation to get Brexit done
Should we be surprised that Adam Tolley KC will not be telling Rishi Sunak whether he thinks Dominic Raab is guilty of bullying?
No: his instructions were merely to “establish the specific facts surrounding” a series of formal complaints against the justice secretary. The barrister was not asked to draw inferences or pass judgment.
We were told on Tolley’s appointment last November that “the prime minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards”. And as Professor Graham Zellick KC (hon) observed in a letter to The Times on Saturday, “it would be highly regrettable if bad behaviour were excused simply because it fell short of some elusive definition of bullying”.
Despite being deputy prime minister, Raab has clearly been sidelined — with none of his legislative ambitions featuring in the current parliamentary timetable. Sunak will presumably have to decide whether to sack him in response to Tolley’s report or ease him out in a future reshuffle.
What I had completely overlooked was something Raab said in the summer of 2019, when he was out of government but standing for election as party leader and prime minister after the resignation of Theresa May (also seen in the photograph above).
The Parliamentary Battle over Brexit, a compelling and comprehensive account by Meg Russell and Lisa James to be published this month by OUP, reminds us that Raab had suggested proroguing parliament to prevent MPs blocking Brexit nearly three months before Boris Johnson tried to do just that.
As the PoliticsHome news website reported on 6 June 2019,
the former Brexit secretary told a behind-closed-doors hustings organised by the One Nation group of moderate Tory MP that he would be prepared to temporarily “prorogue” the Commons to guarantee the UK leaves the European Union by 31 October.
That did not go down well with most other candidates. One observed in a letter to colleagues that “to suspend parliament explicitly to pursue a course of action against its wishes is not a serious policy of a prime minister in the 21st century”:
But, as Russell and James observe,
while Raab was knocked out of the contest early, and condemnations of his proposal came from far and wide in the Conservative party, Boris Johnson was markedly less vocal.
It did not take long to see why. After winning the leadership contest, Johnson tried to implement what, as Russell and James say, would have been regarded in normal times as “an outlandish idea”.
Proroguing parliament for five weeks was found to be unlawful by 11 justices of Supreme Court, the largest number of judges to deliver a single ruling in modern history.
Meanwhile, the first politician to have supported the idea remains lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice.
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Many thanks, Joshua, for having spotted this new insight about Mr. Raab.
I expect, given Adam Tolley KC’s remit to recite the facts he should identify rather than to “editorialise”, that the Justice Secretary and Deputy P.M. will on release of the report claim vindication in the absence of any unambiguous findings of bullying or other serious or unworthy misconduct.
I find it hard to get my head around a solicitor and member of my own profession who is so fixated on his privileges of office whilst so semi- detached at best from the stern obligations placed upon him as a consequence.
It would also seem likely, I agree, that Mr. Sunak is working, gradually, towards easing his deputy out of the door as painlessly as possible.
I am driven also to observe that the Labour Party’s approach needs increasingly to be to insist that THEY are different AND MUCH MORE honourable. Dangerous, of course, but it is a central task for them to persuade a sceptical- or even cynical- electorate of that. This I pick up on the Kings Heath (Brum) doorstep as a humble canvasser. And this in a decidedly pro-Labour and pro- constituency M.P. area.
Johnson was pro-rogue and pro having rogue