Everyone wants a sovereign parliament until they don't like what it says

Lord Zac Goldsmith has quit the Government, which makes sense because, as a peer, he can’t be voted out.
Zac Goldsmith has resigned after attacking the privileges committee.Zac Goldsmith has resigned after attacking the privileges committee.
Zac Goldsmith has resigned after attacking the privileges committee.

When Britain voted to depart from the European Union, it was heralded by Boris Johnson as an act that “recaptured sovereignty”, which he and his Vote Leave allies had accused of infringing upon the voice and power of parliament.

Fast forward to 2023, and former prime minister Johnson has fled the Commons, jumping before he was pushed, and attacking the Privileges Committee and therefore parliament, as he did so.

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He was joined in this by the few supporters he has left who, despite almost universally wanting to empower parliament through Brexit, now hate the verdicts it produces.

This was seen by the ludicrous response to a report, produced mainly by Conservatives finding that the man who has always lied had lied again. For Nadine Dorries, to whom he lied to about sorting a peerage, this somehow still comes as a surprise.

For Mr Johnson, he tried to besmirch the report as “rubbish” and say it wasn’t true, just like he’d done when caught making up quotes by The Times, or when he lied to Michael Howard about his affair. He can do this because he’s leaving, and never, ever coming back. The country has turned on him. It’s not the same for his allies, yet.

The Privileges Committee named eight MPs who they say undermined the work of the government’s inquiry into whether or not Mr Johnson misled Parliament.

Ms Dorries may be going, but Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brendan Clarke-Smith, and Priti Patel, all intend to stick around in the workplace after calling colleagues a bunch of partisan liars, undermining its authority from the inside.

These last few Spartans, holding out against political reality, are now crying free speech, with Ms Dorries saying the committee needs to “grow up” and be able to hear criticism, while Mark Jenkinson called it an “overreach” and a “witch hunt”.

Tory murmurs are awash with claims they should be allowed to say what they want for a healthy democracy, and that not allowing criticism is an attack on free speech and parliament’s voice.

Of course, it’s none of these things, just the rules. When the then-SNP Westminster leader was thrown out the Commons for saying Mr Johnson “wilfully misled parliament”, there were no cries for a more robust debate, or the old Etonian to get thicker skin. Instead, it was seen, rightfully, as due process when someone doesn’t follow the rules.

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MPs are perfectly entitled to say what they want, but there are sometimes consequences for doing so. “Freedom of speech" does note equate "freedom from consequences".

Now Lord Zac Goldsmith, best known for his losing London Mayoral campaign, has resigned a day after being named as one of the parliamentarians who launched attacks on the committee.

Asked to apologise by Downing Street, he refused, instead resigning from his Foreign Office role on Friday, accusing Rishi Sunak of being “simply uninterested” in tackling the climate crisis. He later apologised for attacking the report publicly, before doing so again.

These dissidents may claim to love free speech, but at some point must realise the committee reported on facts, which do not care about their feelings.



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