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Analysis

Here are 3 ways to force Johnson to obey the law

by Hugo Dixon | 08.09.2019

Woe betide the prime minister. If he breaks the law, he will be broken. We can fight him through the courts and Parliament, and on the streets.

Boris Johnson is in a corner. He has said he would prefer to be dead in a ditch than follow the new law requiring him to ask the EU for extra time; and MPs have refused to let him wriggle out of the law by calling a snap election. 

Breaking the law might seem to be a way out. But the rule of law is the core principle of our democracy. If the prime minister deliberately breaks it, all hell will break loose.

Any political thug – from the far right or the far left – will have a green light to break the law in future. They won’t just ignore Parliament. They’ll ignore the courts. This is how democracies die.

No true conservative could advocate this. Maybe when Johnson looks over the brink, he’ll pull back.

Perhaps that’s why Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, was giving mixed messages this morning. He told Sky News that the government would “test to the limit” the new law, but ultimately behave lawfully. Similarly, Sajid Javid, the chancellor of the exchequer, told the BBC the government would obey the law but “absolutely will not” ask the EU to delay Brexit.

But we can’t trust this government on anything it says. So imagine Johnson is so far gone that he doesn’t care about wreaking havoc. He would still be unwise to break the law. It would backfire on him big time.

Courts can send him to jail

If Johnson breaks the law, the courts will tell him he has to comply. If he still refuses, he’ll be in contempt of court – and could be sent to jail. If he didn’t then resign, the Queen would probably fire him.

The extremists around him will say: “The people are on your side. You’ll be a martyr. You’ll be out of jail in a jiffy and can romp home to power in an election.”

But can Johnson really be confident that pragmatic middle Britain will flock to his banner if he is destroying the bedrock of our society?

Parliament can kick him out of power

Many sensible Conservative MPs will not be able to go along with such political vandalism. It won’t just be Amber Rudd, who has quit the government, or the 21 MPs kicked out of the party last week. Another group of moderate Tories will be tempted to rebel – such as David Lidington, Theresa May’s number two, who told the BBC yesterday that breaking the law would “set a really dangerous precedent”.

There would probably then be a successful vote of no confidence in Johnson. And given the extent of the constitutional crisis, MPs should be able to rally behind a new emergency prime minister. If Johnson still refused to go, the Queen would have to sack him.

There might then be an election. But Johnson wouldn’t be in such a good position to win it after enraging moderate Conservatives. The centre and the left might also be more willing to join forces in such an election to defeat a common enemy.

The people can stop a coup

If the prime minister breaks the law, the people will also be justified in escalating their tactics to stop him. Any civil disobedience would need to be totally peaceful and carefully planned – so it did not backfire. But a well-orchestrated campaign – possibly including general strikes, sabotage by civil servants and mass demonstrations – could bring Johnson to his knees.

Update: In the final paragraph, the phrase “breaking the law” was changed to “escalating their tactics“ shortly after publication

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2 Responses to “Here are 3 ways to force Johnson to obey the law”

  • What must it be like to have been told from an early age that your destiny was to lead the country, as a god-given right? To lie, cheat and bully your way to the top. Only to find out that you are rubbish at the job.

  • This is jumping the gun a bit, isn’t it? So far as I am aware Boris hasn’t broken the law yet and increasingly there seem to be reasons to suppose that, in this particular case, he may not need to anyway.