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Sovereignty of Parliament must be upheld

27th Aug 2021
Sovereignty of Parliament must be upheld

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins has been slammed for policing fellow MP Zarah Sultana’s tone.
(Credit: Official Parliament portraits)


One of Parliament’s key roles is to examine and challenge the Government’s policies. It is the primary way of holding ministers accountable for their actions and pledges. The process is complicated by the quaint way the Executive is inside the Legislature, especially one with a large majority. However, it remains essential for the sovereignty of the House of Commons to be upheld and not undermined.

Not for the first time, one of Boris Johnson’s ministers has taken it upon themselves to preside over House debates. Last month, one of the youngest MPs in the chamber was chastised by Home Office Minister, Victoria Atkins. Ironically, Zarah Sultana was the first ethnic minority member to speak in a debate about the prevalence of racist abuse on social media when she was censored for questioning the role of the PM and Home Secretary in ‘stoking’ racism.

It is the duty of the politically impartial Speaker of the House, not the Government to preside over sessions by maintaining order and intervening when any MP breaks the rules. It is not the mandate of any minister to silence remonstration of Johnson or his cabinet.

Atkins is not the first Tory to use underhanded tactics since the PM was found guilty by the Supreme Court of abusing his powers to prorogue Parliament for five weeks during the height of the Brexit crisis in 2019.

In contrast with his predecessor John Bercow, the current Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and his team have yet to assert their authority.

The difference in Speaker competence was underlined when former Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, Dawn Butler, was farcically ejected for breaking the silence about Johnson’s repeated lying and his refusal to answer questions because of the failure by the Speaker to act, and there have been many.

These are sad days for British democracy that Sultana and Butler are left unprotected from the chair and the archaic convention.

The overtones in the case of the Muslim MP representing Coventry South are pernicious. As she says, the derogatory remarks by the junior minister were some “blatant examples of racism and some posh white person tells us” to lower our tone. Hoyle’s failure to intervene when Atkins so demandingly attempted to deflect Sultana‘s legitimate protest at the gross misconduct was a blatant dereliction of duty.

If elected Muslim members are not allowed to raise complaints, like Butler, where can they? It negates Parliament’s function as the principal debating chamber.

The complicit silence of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and other parties is an insult to British democracy. To his credit, Hoyle did eventually hold talks with Johnson in June, but apparently over the Government’s contempt of Parliament in making announcements elsewhere first. It is imperative to uphold the integrity of the House of Commons to purge the example he sets in having such disdain for its sovereignty.

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