What’s On The Cards?

Stuart Farr takes a break from festive parlour games to speculate over the New Year’s resolutions of Parliament 

Quite often we don’t get to see how public figures occupy their spare time when they’re not out and about pressing the flesh, kissing babies (yuck!) or doing other things loosely connected to their ‘day job’ such as soapboxing or making expenses claims.

Churchill famously loved bricklaying. Theresa May enjoys engaging in fashion and still tries to dazzle, even from the back benches. Boris Johnson? Well, for a while there he had us all fooled with comments about building red London buses out of art and craft materials. 

More recently, however, he seems to have displayed another fascination… Marvel comic characters. His self-comparison with the Incredible Hulk on the eve of a visit to see Juncker in mid-September generated more than just a few titters across the media. Hey, it even sparked a barbed tweet from Mark Ruffalo himself! 

We often talk about politicians needing to be open to scrutiny but frankly some things just need to be left to the imagination and not aired in public. For example, it would be all too easy to imagine Boris settled into his comfy red leather cinema chair, glass of plonk in hand, a big toe poking out of his work sock, watching Avengers: Endgame

As the final credits roll, fishing for a compliment, he turns to his film-viewing companion and says: “If you were to compare me with a superhero, which one would it be?” No doubt hoping the response will be Iron Man or Thor, the answer provided would instead give him reason to pause and reflect.

A response of “Boris, you’re just like the Hulk sometimes” might not be interpreted as the tease it was intended but instead could spark a feeling of kinship from deep within.

When the news broke (or smashed) of Boris’ big-green-man belief, I suspect there were a fair few who’d expressed dismay that the creation of the late, great Stan Lee had been sullied in this manner. And then, of course, came the stream of alternative suggestions.

Dr Doom more like; definitely a Dr Octopus? (though I gather Trump has a long-standing claim to that one); the Abomination or even Justin Hammer (my personal favourite) are just a few of the examples I’ve heard…so far.

Let’s face it, Brexit has been parked up for a while. There’s an election coming on 12 December. Drawing comparisons between politicians will now come into even sharper focus as the campaign begins. That said, if there were a version of Top Trumps based on self-styled hero politicians, Boris’ card is probably the one that risks not clinching that all-important winning hand. See for yourself! 

So what does it reveal and what of the other potential candidates for the top roles? And what of the other potential candidates for the top roles? Who’ll be the Top Trump left at the end of the forthcoming parliamentary election game in your opinion? Above are a few ideas created by the team for you to play around with – let us know if you think we’ve been too generous.

Of course, even though we have been given a ‘flextension’ by the EU, the reality is that everyone will be working to the 31 January deadline now that an election has been called.

As such, it would be immensely optimistic to suggest that all of the legal shenanigans will be over by Christmas – and also overly hopeful that we might get to enjoy a sliver of turkey without worrying too much about whether the UK’s food supplies will dwindle to the point where our festivities are worthy only of poor Bob Cratchit.

Like the proverbial magician, Boris somehow managed to pull a deal with the EU out of the hat – despite the odds being stacked against it. However, his policy of leaving by the end of October was a complete failure.

Speculation was rife as to how the PM could avoid the Benn Act – which sought to compel a request for a three-month extension, unless a deal could be passed or MPs approved a no-deal exit by 19 October 2019. The various options debated involved a combination of both legal and political manoeuvres.

The option chosen by the PM was the least likely to succeed and it begs the question why, with a Brexit deal in his back pocket, he didn’t press the issue much further than he did. 

The simplest option would have been for the PM simply to refuse to sign and send a letter requesting an extension. However, the general consensus of legal opinion was that would be such a clear and obvious contempt it would only invite the Supreme Court’s intervention. 

Other available legal mechanisms included an Order of Council. This is an infrequently used legal process that enables a piece of legislation to be suspended. It does not require royal approval and so the Queen would be bypassed. On the other hand, the similarly named (but different) Order in Council could have been invoked under the Civil Contingencies Act.

It permits legislation to be suspended in an emergency. Again, neither of these options arguably fell within the spirit of compliance with the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on constitutional law. Their use would have created quite a drama. 

Other commentators have suggested that the Article 50 procedure effectively trumps domestic law in any event and so the Benn Act was, ironically, potentially in breach of EU law and so redundant and ineffective. I’m not so sure. If all else fails, the PM could always have resigned and squatted at No. 10, forcing the Queen to sack him.

However, this option was by far the least viable. Overall, it would achieve little except damage the legacy of the PM, destroy what little goodwill there was left between him and parliament, and risk his personal freedom and the complete loss of a potential deal with the EU.

In the end the PM opted to send a plethora of unsigned and signed letters – seeking, I suspect, to make a political statement to the EU while attempting, on the face of it, to comply with the strict letter of the law. So was his unsigned letter requesting an extension legal or not?

Technically, it was just about legal – but the practical answer to that question does not just lie in the form and substance of what he sent. The risk of illegality largely lay in the reaction of its recipients in the EU, and it is difficult to see how the PM couldn’t have known what that reaction was going to be. 

As it transpired, the EU acknowledged the unsigned letter as a formal request from the UK for an extension and duly granted it. In doing so,  the EU effectively threw the PM’s personal “Dear Donald” letter in the bin.

Had the EU’s reaction been different – they might have argued it was not a valid request – I have little doubt there would have been cries for the PM to be swiftly carted off in handcuffs.

In the end, I suspect it was Brexit fatigue that probably decided the issue. As matters stand, Parliament has until 31 January 2020 to get Brexit done. The PM’s key strategy was certainly ‘dead’ long before the deadline expired. 

For the gun trade at least, the fact that Brexit has consumed so much parliamentary time recently means the statute books have been relatively quiet across a wide range of subject matters.

The Firearms (Fees) Regulations 2019 introduced – from 1 October – new fees for museum firearms licences, club approval and Section 5 authorisations. Also, the Firearms Security Handbook has received a 2019 update (though on one aspect I am informed it is still at least 10 years out of date!)

There were relatively few hints of what’s to come for the gun trade in the Queen’s Speech. The devil will be in the detail, and no doubt the professed commitment of the government to tackling “international security issues” and addressing “violent” crime will throw up a few fastballs for the trade to catch during 2020 and beyond.

The express commitment to ban the import of souvenirs from trophy hunting doesn’t come as much of a surprise, it must be said, but again, it rather depends what other bits and pieces get tied in around it.

Finally, I can’t sign off without wondering how the latest threat of judicial review by Wild Justice seemingly ended up with some form of concession by DEFRA to participate in a review of the impact of released (non-native) birds on wildlife. Was that a double-edged sword forged from weaknesses in DEFRA’s legal position, or a genuine meeting of minds? 

As we enter stoppage time at the end of 2019, I suspect some of you will form the view that Wild Justice are two-nil up on us so far.   

Stuart is a solicitor and partner at Knights plc. He has been a shooting enthusiast for over 30 years and welcomes contact from trade members: stuart.farr@knightsplc.com 

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