Boris Johnson is a man who rose to power on the fundamental promises of “restoring our freedoms” and “taking back control”. True to his word, and under the cover of the pandemic, he has quietly pursued that ambitious agenda whilst seeking to captivate us with his usual bravura and boosterism.
But with Johnson there’s always a rub. So, instead of reforming our creaking democracy and shoring up our rights, he and his government have been doing the polar opposite – seizing the promised control for themselves, while simultaneously stripping away our hard-won democratic freedoms. The raft of Bills likely to pass into law this year will set Britain, the so-called beacon of democracy, on an inexorable and slippery slope towards a form of oppressive governance. Once in place, the accompanying body of legislation will be fiendishly difficult to dismantle.
Given the current political brouhaha, the true scale of the impending assault on our civil liberties has – quite understandably – yet to manifest itself in full view of the British people. But be in no doubt; pieced together, the picture emerging should be one of profound concern to us all.
First, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill could, as it stands, make it almost impossible to attend a peaceful protest without (inadvertently or otherwise) committing an offence. Today, tens of thousands of protesters in towns and cities across the UK rallied against this bill.
Similarly punitive is the “reach” of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which could strip citizenship from dual citizens without prior warning and also criminalise refugees.
While both Bills will undoubtedly be contested, the Government has a raft of “backup plans” designed to suck the very life from our already fragile democracy – namely, the lethal combination of the Elections Bill which will make it harder to vote, and would also give ministers power over the Electoral Commission; while the Judicial Review and Courts Bill would allow ministers to strike out legal rulings they disagree with.
All this while not forgetting the Online Safety Bill which, ostensibly, is designed to regulate Big Tech, but likewise has the potential to discourage would-be or perceived critics on social media or elsewhere.
As matters currently stand, there’s now a feeling of growing inevitability that traditional establishment politics is no match for the present government in its relentless pursuit of consolidating both power and control. With its 80-seat majority, it is unstoppable. The government’s march towards autocracy under Boris Johnson’s leadership has not gone unnoticed by our allies, but like us, they can only watch on helplessly.
Whether or not the Prime Minister survives the current hiatus, despite widespread protests, the British people are unlikely to have their electoral say as they come to terms with the potentially devastating loss of our much cherished freedoms. The problem is that when we do, it will surely be too late!