September 20, 2019 | 70° F

SURIANO: Britian's Brexit breaks political system, process


Opinion Column: A RINO's View


In the wake of the 2016 election and the subsequent three years of American politics, many have turned a jealous eye toward more polished countries such as Canada, France or Britain. In recent months, the Canadian government has been rocked with scandal, the streets of Paris were paralyzed with the so-called “yellow vest” protest and now finally our closest ally, Britain, has been trapped by the gordian knot of Brexit. 

So, what are Americans to make of this British political crisis? Well, my dear reader, I will tell you so you can tell all your friends and professors.

First, what is actually happening? Boris Johnson, prime minister of Britain, lost his majority in Parliament over the question of how to leave the European Union (EU). So he remains the British prime minister, but he has lost his ability to control Parliament and thus his ability to control Brexit legislations. 

Furthermore, the opposition has rejected Johnson’s attempt to hold a parliamentary election to settle the matter. So you might think that is no crisis and Parliament will now run Brexit and do what it may. 

The problem is that in Britain’s unwritten constitutional system, the prime minister executes the Crown's power. 

In its system, the power to conduct foreign affairs such as leaving the EU belongs to the reigning monarch. In this case, Queen Elizabeth II. Since Britain is a modern constitutional monarchy, her majesty’s powers are vested in the prime minister and she is required by custom to follow the wishes of her prime minister. 

Where the rub comes in is, she is required to sign laws passed by Parliament. So, where the constitutional crisis comes in is the possible conflict in which Parliament passes a law delaying Brexit and Johnson advises the Queen not to sign the law — which admittedly is highly unlikely — or he simply ignores the laws as unconstitutional. So, what should Britain do?

Parliament ought to get their act together and leave the EU. Was Brexit a good idea? Perhaps not, but personally I believe that Britain should have never joined the EU. Parliament has its power from the people and has no authority to give up that power. 

We as Americans would never allow Congress to give up its power to an institution higher than the United States Constitution. This constitution is the highest law in the land, bar none. So, if I were British, I would never support the EU to make and pass laws that I must follow. That being said, this is a moot point.

The decision was settled by the people in a national referendum. I, personally, oppose national referendums or public votes on matter of laws. We elect representatives to pass popular laws, but also to respect our rights. This prevents the whims of the masses from making laws based on populist whims that would hurt a minority. 

Representative governments allow the people to have their laws made at their will, but also tempered through debate and expertise. But, since it has been done, Parliament must follow the will of the people. If Parliament does not do so, it risks losing all legitimacy and this would have terrible consequences for politics and national stability. Worse, in my opinion, than what Brexit would do.

So, in opposition to the popular elite opinion, Johnson ought to do everything he can to make sure Brexit goes through. This includes his proroguing of Parliament, which some have called a “coup,” is ridiculed as the move is constitutional and, even if a court found it unconstitutional, would be meaningless in practice. 

Parliament decides what is constitutional in Britain, not the courts as in the U.S. The problem is that both Johnson and the anti-Brexiters have legitimacy on their side. Johnson has the vote which calls for Brexit and the opposition has a majority of Parliament. 

So, we have a stalemate, but I believe the ultimate judgment is the people. Since it seems like there can be a solution here, as there is no one besides Johnson who can get the votes to be the prime minister, the Labour Party should allow an election to take place. This is how the British system is supposed to work. 

So, what do we make of this mess? One conclusion is to be thankful that the U.S. has a written constitution. Even with all of our constitutional disputes, we have a firm system grounded in a constitution. 

The British system is rooted far more in tradition, which can go only so far. Second is that a government should not hold national referendum, and if it does, it must follow the results or risk crisis.

Robert Suriano is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring  in history. His column, "A RINO's View," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Robert Suriano

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