Does Lying to The Queen Matter?

A court has concluded that the Prime Minister lied to the Queen to get her to close Parliament. 

In our regular series on such things we ask “does it matter?”

The Background

The Scottish Court of Sessions found unanimously that the Prime Minister misled the Queen to get her to close Parliament. In many ways this should surprise no one. And now the Supreme Court has decided prorogation was illegal.

The official reason for shutting down Parliament was to give time for the logistics of the Queen’s Speech (The State Opening of Parliament) to be set up. Most people already knew, however, that that was a lie. The real reason was the PM’s difficulties with brexit – and many supported him doing it for that reason.

What Has Changed?

All that’s really changed, therefore, is that the court has found the Government is not very good at lying. It left too much evidence of the lie for meaningful doubt, and so now the lie is official.

This takes away a lot of deniability and sets it in a formal context. It means there is tangible evidence, not just common sense, behind any disaproval, that the government broke the law.

Of course, while Unite the Union Boss Len McLuskey has talked of a citizen’s arrest against the Prime Minister, this is not actually about going to jail. The constitution of the UK is largely based on civil law – so any follow up is less clink, more correction. But correction can matter.

So it Matters Then?

In practical terms it is now genuinely plausible that Parliament could re-open after any equivalent move in future. That would be painfully embarrassing for the Prime Minister and in the present context would make it even harder for the Government to play down its own Yellow Hammer report into the dangers of “no deal” brexit.

There is also a public perception issue at stake. The Queen is revered in the UK and although her consitutional role is an odd combination of ceremonial and technocratic, the feeling that lying to her crosses a line seems like it should be important.

“Ultimately, people who supported what they felt was a win for their party, their leader, or their cause (primarily brexit), are unlikely to care.”

There is also the matter of the relationship between the Queen and the Prime Minister, which is unlikely to be particularly good in this light. The Queen has few formal powers but the mere knowledge that she likely disaproves  of being lied to (who doesn’t?) could colour all future perceptions of their interactions.

Or Maybe it Doesn’t Matter

The thing thing is, the court basically found what pretty much everyone knew from the start. The unprecedented long prorogue was not about The Queen’s Speech even though that’s what Government said. The Government just had to pretend it was because the Queen could not close Parliament for any other reason.

So Boris Johnson lied to the Queen to get his own way and everyone knew that.

“There are a lot of Tories for whom the Queen is a symbol of the nation and a woman of great emotional attachment.”

It would therefore be quite bizarre if people who supported the closure of Parliament genuinely believed it was for the logistics of a Queen’s Speech, and thus similarly bizarre if they now feel upset that he lied.

Ultimately, people who supported what they felt was a win for their party, their leader, or their cause (primarily brexit), are unlikely to suddenly think a line was crossed. And opponents already knew he lied too, so they are not new opponents because of the lie.

Wider Implications

This may become a theme of this series but too much of politics focuses too readily on the loudest voices. During general political activity that means long term implications of things can be overlooked.

This is a Conservative Party Prime Minister who lied to the Queen, alongside a Conservative Party Leader of the House – in the form of Jacob Rees-Mogg – who lied in his advice to the Queen.

While the Conservatives are heavily focused on brexit and leave voters right now, they are a party supported (traditionally at least) by a lot of people for whom the Queen is a symbol of the nation and a woman of great integrity and emotional attachment.

To lie to her might yet matter if it proves intolerable for those people.

P.S. In a wonderfully quaint British anomaly – the court case originally took place in Scottish courts because their English counterparts were on their summer holibobs. How sweet!

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