Boris Johnson’s government is taking back control in ways that could undermine British democracy forever using legislative processes – unknown to most people in this country – that have very significant constitutional implications.

First published in July 2021.

Boris Johnson’s government is taking back control in obscure ways that could undermine British democracy forever. Should we be afraid for our democracy, our citizens’ rights, human rights, the rule of law in this country, our NHS... everything we cherish, yet take too easily for granted?

Lord Charles Falconer, Labour peer and barrister who served as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs under Tony Blair’s premiership, thinks we should.

In a series of tweets, Lord Falconer explained on Tuesday that the government’s recent manoeuvres over the overseas aid budget might well have been only just a ploy to invoke the supremacy of the Executive (the government) over the supremacy of Parliament.

“The government today just amended an absolute duty on it contained in an Act of Parliament by a motion in the Commons. They did not amend the Act. They simply used their Commons majority to override the law.

“The law is now contained not in the Act of Parliament but in a Written Ministerial Statement of the Treasury which overrides the Act and is probably enforceable by judicial review.

“The government have turned the supremacy of Parliament which has conventionally meant supremacy expressed by legislation into supremacy expressed through government motion. This means in practice the supremacy of the executive.

“What happened today has huge significance for those dependent on U.K. Aid. It also has very significant constitutional implications. Primary legislation trumped by government fiat. Truly an elected dictatorship.

“It’s worth setting out the facts. The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 provides in s1: ‘It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance [of] 0.7% of gross national income is met by the United Kingdom in the year 2015 and each subsequent calendar year.’”

On Tuesday, the House of Commons indeed passed the following motion without any problem and with little opposition:

The Hansard/UK Parliament

Lord Falconer continued:

“The Chancellor made clear in the debate that if the House voted against the motion it is an effective vote and the government would return, irrespective of the circumstances, to 0.7% next year.

“If on the other hand, the Commons agreed to the motion, as they did, the government were clear they would no longer comply with s1 of the statute but instead with the terms of Monday’s written statement.

“That statement provided that the government commits to the 0.7 target only ‘when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal forecast says that, on a sustainable basis, the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling.’”

HM Treasury

There is nothing in the Act which allows the government to be relieved from the duty to meet the 0.7 target every year from 2015.

“It would have been open to the government to introduce legislation to amend the Act.

“They did not do this. Instead, they purported to amend the obligation in s1 of the Act by the motion.

“The government is now proceeding on the basis of the ministerial statement of 12 July as it amends s1 of the Act that sets out the legal obligation of the government.

They feel emboldened to amend a provision of primary legislation by a motion because the Act says in s3: the fact that the duty in section 1 has not been, or will or may not be, complied with does not affect the lawfulness of anything done, or omitted to be done, by any person.

“The Act envisaged accountability for compliance with the Act to be by statements to Parliament.

“That accountability was to be by Parliamentary statement is a million constitutional miles from saying the Act can be amended by parliamentary statement.

“But that is what just happened this afternoon. It’s constitutionally unprecedented. It means that the ministerial statement of 12 July is enforceable by judicial review whereas the Act is not.

“And it has set a precedent which will be cited again and again when there are some Acts of Parliament which impose duties on governments which, if the government can persuade a majority in the Commons by motion that it is too difficult to comply, the duty can be ignored.”

PM Boris Johnson. | UK Parliament-Jessica Taylor

This government has now had a habit of trying to ignore and break the law “in limited and specific ways”. They already did it with the Brexit deal, and again with migrants crossing the Channel.

Everything voters have been fed with for decades by Eurosceptics and Libertarians on all sides and their wealthy press friends... it never was about taking back control from the EU, or from Brussels. No, it was always about taking back control from the most powerful threat to their very existence and survival, right here, in this country: the People itself.

And now, the government found a way to undermine both UK Parliament and Democracy using legislative processes that ought to protect them.

And right now, no one is stopping the PM and his Libertarian Minions from doing it again, and again


J.N. PAQUET, Author & Journalist, Editor of PMP Magazine.


[This piece was first published in [the brief] on 13 July 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Instagram/UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor. - Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. | 7 July 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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