For an hour of two last Sunday night, like a murmuration of starlings, a cluster of tweets appeared on-line; they were voicing interest in the news that the Queen had allegedly asked legal advice about sacking Mr. Johnson. Context is everything. It turned out that this prodigious and unprecedented happening, if indeed it happened, dated from before the Supreme Court’s ruling on the lawfulness of Mr. Johnson’s prorogation. A little more damaging than a hand-on-thigh allegation, you might think (though not say).
This on-line murmuration had been caused by a finely crafted article about to appear in the My View section of Monday’s I, written by its star journalist, Ian Birrell. “One well-placed source”, Birrell wrote, “told me the Queen had, for the first time in her reign, sought advice on sacking a prime minister before the Supreme Court verdict”, and Birrrell is a highly respected journalists’ journalist. It shows in the quality of his writing. “I have no idea if this is true – it would be denied by all concerned –“ he said “but the fact it was suggested by such a figure underscores the scale of Johnson’s difficulties”. It certainly does. Again context is everything, the opening of the Conservative Party Conference.
In the absence of any other “well-placed source” the rest of the Press and BBC kept away from the story. Nor did the tweets continue. Despite Birrell’s prudent, professional caveats, you could easily imagine the concern in Balmoral: Mr. Johnson had projected the Queen into the public domain as a woman without agency, almost subordinate to the Prime Minister from whom alone she took advice, advice which she must follow even if it might turn out to be unlawful and wrong. The Queen, though meshed in the web of conventions surrounding constitutional monarchy, is not without agency, even if this agency has to be conducted in an oblique, sensitive and sophisticated manner. Wouldn’t you, in this position, be thinking ahead and wanting to know your legal position as a monarch in the light of a range of possible eventualities? Would you be that displeased if the country learnt you weren’t sitting on your hands while the unity of the kingdom was in peril? Parliament was prorogued from 9 September and the Royal Assent was given that same day to the Benn Bill requiring Mr. Johnson to write a letter to the European Union asking for an extension beyond the 31 October date set for leaving. What if Mr. Johnson simply refused to do so?
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General who preceded Geoffrey Cox, the present one, a man who seems to be auditioning for the part of the wicked uncle in this Christmas’ panto, provided an answer in the Daily Mail. The Supreme Court, Grieve explained, would issue a mandamus - Latin has recently become contagious amongst parliamentarians - a mandatory order compelling the Prime Minister to comply. And if he doesn’t, says Mr. Grieve, he “will be out in five minutes. He will be dismissed”. And, yes, the Queen would step in - effectively sacking him - though this was a “hypothetical position”.
I wonder just how hypothetical. Perhaps the Queen was not being unduly anxious if, indeed, she had sought legal advice. There are two scenarios: the first is that Mr. Johnson whispers in the ear of key European leaders, not that quietly, that they shouldn’t grant another extension, that there would be no point because Parliament would be unable to get its act together and put everyone out of their misery, one way or another, by decisive action. The Prime Minister would then write the required extension letter and hope Mr. Macron dug in his heels and refused to waive the 31 October deadline. The second would be that Mr. Johnson became a BREXIT martyr, refusing on grounds of conscience – italics necessary - to sign the letter, and thus be duly sacked, be cast very low only to be born aloft and back into power in a future election victory. Mr. Cummings, your choice.
One thing is clear: whatever happens next, Mr. Johnson will make sure “the people” are convinced it is not his fault if on 1 November we still remain in the European Union. There are dark warnings from Tory sources of mob violence, read threats, if we do. Eton mess flung across the Mace in the Chamber and so on. The Prime Minister shall be blameless, “the people’s champion”. Many, though, will share the blame: Larry the Downing Street cat, all the Remain “traitors”, the Irish Taoiseach, Brussels diplomats, Gina Miller, Joanna Cherry, Lady Hale and, if as was murmured briefly in the twitter-sphere and things carry on the way they are going, Mrs. Windsor herself. Then it will be Mr. Johnson and “the People” versus Parliament, the Supreme Court, more than 16 million voters, and possibly the Queen. No wonder Mr. Johnson has a problem with women.
See Also TheArticle.com 02/10/2109