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September 18, 2019

No doubt, this is a constitutional crisis

We have been very careful with the expression constitutional crisis in the past. We cannot recall a genuine constitutional crisis in a big western democracy, in the sense that the constitutional machinery itself was at stake. There is now more than a whiff of a constitutional crisis in the UK. The UK's unwritten constitution was clearly not designed to handle events as complex as those associated with Brexit. A written constitution may well be one of the main results of this crisis, however it ends. But, until that moment arrives, the notion of a constitutional crisis seems appropriate to us.

The immediate issue is not Brexit itself, but the prorogation of parliament. The Supreme Court yesterday held hearings on this case, the first over three days. In his written submission to the court, Boris Johnson yesterday told the justices that the matter of prorogation was none of their business - constitutionally inappropriate, as he called it. He said it was politically acceptable for governments to prorogue parliament for their own political advantage:

"The courts have no jurisdiction to enforce political conventions. Although they can recognise the operation of a political convention in deciding a legal question, such as the extent of a duty of confidentiality, they cannot give legal rulings on its operation or scope, because those matters are determined within the political world."

It is one thing to defend your position in a court, but quite another to dispute the court's right to make a decision. Johnson's lawyer at the court, Lord Keen, said the prime minister would comply with a ruling by the Supreme Court, but also made it clear that he could prorogue parliament again if it suited him.

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September 18, 2019

Macron's immigration bid

Emmanuel Macron pursues a strategy taking to the left over climate change and social policies. His latest move suggests that he is now aiming to conquer the right on immigration. This is his way of staying neither right nor left.

On Monday he co-opted ministers and a majority for his plans to toughen immigration policies by insisting that the only political adversary is the Front National. By putting immigration back on the agenda, Macron made it clear he is up for the presidential elections in 2022. This is his opening bid. French media also sees this as his way to contribute to the local elections next March. After all, polls suggest that his constituency of supporters has shifted to the right. With this move he talks directly to them.

An Ispos/Sopra Steria poll on divisions in French society published Tuesday showed that 63% of respondents felt there were too many foreigners in France. Anti-foreigner sentiment was strongest among working-class respondents, with 88% saying there were too many immigrants.

But this is a dangerous game, too. Once Macron launches a debate on immigration there is no going back, and people will expect action. Wooing Marine Le Pen's voters after two years of non-action on immigration may also benefit the original more than the copy. Macron will have to refocus the debate and use his majority to deliver better responses than proposed by Le Pen. 

Commentators recall what happened to Nicolas Sarkozy, who tried to court far-right voters while in office by talking tough on immigration but without significantly changing French laws. Sarkozy later failed to secure his re-election. It is Macron's turn now. The heat is on.

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