21 March 2019, The Tablet

Living in Brexitland is wearing down the country, its parliament and government


Living in Brexitland is wearing down the country, its parliament and government
 

Tracing the flow of power in Westminster and Whitehall is rather like calibrating the fluctuations in a set of floating exchange rates in the political equivalent of the money markets. In the strange country we are temporarily inhabiting – let’s call it “Brexitland” – nearly all the political markets seem to be moving against the Prime Minister. For example, in the space of three days last week, 12-14 March, Theresa May failed in her second attempt to persuade the House of Commons to approve her exit deal with the EU, four Cabinet ministers defied a three-line whip and drove a JCB through the wall of collective responsibility without being sacked from a Cabinet as leaky as a cataract, before she just clung on to her control of the legislative timetable by two votes.

We must, however, be careful not to treat the accumulated events as a permanent shift of the exchange rate in the relationship between the executive and the legislature. A future PM with a substantial majority in parliament and genuine authority among his or her ministerial colleagues would instantly restore the standard relationships of relative power – though the memory of their frisking in the paddock of discontent will linger long among MPs in the House of Commons.

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