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My Lords, when the Prime Minister of Britain breaks the law by illegally suspending Parliament and openly pits elected parliamentarians against the people, we are sailing perilously close to a nasty form of authoritarianism that has led to dictatorship in the not-too-distant past. In threatening to circumvent the Benn Act and the law, the Prime Minister is courting the basest form of populism. The UK’s unwritten constitution makes it clear that we are a representative parliamentary democracy and not a one-man banana republic or dictatorship. While it is undeniable that the British people voted by a narrow margin for Brexit, it was never clear what form that might take. Over three years later, it seems reasonable to offer the electorate a say on the form of Brexit now proposed.
As a historian, though not as distinguished a one as many noble Lords in the Chamber today, I will make a couple of historical allusions. First, Boris Johnson should beware of what happened to Charles I when he tried to bypass Parliament and rule from 1629 to 1640 with his eleven years’ tyranny, a historical period mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord True. This led not only to civil war and the execution of Charles I, after his impeachment and trial, but also the trial in Westminster Hall and execution of his chief adviser, the Earl of Strafford. Dominic Cummings should remember that fact when he next advises the PM to bypass Parliament. While I would not press the parallel too far, there is a case for impeaching Cummings and locking him up in the Elizabeth Tower.
My second historical allusion takes me to Russia. In 1991, another Boris, Boris Yeltsin, deliberately orchestrated the disintegration of the USSR, so that he, as President of the Russian Federation, could seize power in the rump of the old Soviet Union. Our own Boris is willing to do the same, taking risks with the union in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in order that he can hang on as PM of a little England with just Wales attached. Furthermore, as is the penchant of our PMs and their advisers, the Queen’s Speech itself repeated an old Soviet slogan. We heard Tony Blair promote Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s phrase: “Education, education, education”. Boris Johnson’s Queen’s Speech advocates a “new economic policy”. Is he, or his advisers, aware that the “New Economic Policy”, or NEP, was announced by Lenin in 1921, and later abandoned by Stalin in his “great break” with the past, leading to mass collectivisation? Premier Johnson is now promoting his own great break with the EU, at great economic cost to the country. Have I gone to sleep and woken up in the Soviet Union, led by a megalomaniac pursuing policies of economic ruin? Perhaps the PM’s advisers need a bit more “Education, education, education”.
In conclusion, this country’s unwritten constitution, the rule of law and our representative democracy are the envy of the world. Those who seek to undermine it do no service to the British people and the cause of democracy, which we all rightly cherish.