Saturday 30 September 2023
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OPINION: The daughter of all parliaments

OPINION: The daughter of all parliaments

Friday 08 September 2023

OPINION: The daughter of all parliaments

Friday 08 September 2023

Barrister, Simon Gittins, makes the argument that Guernsey’s democracy shouldn’t be “corroded” by the UK government:

Attending my daughter’s school summer concert at the end of the last academic year, it became immediately apparent that upon entering the cosy annex where the concert would take place I needed to decide where to sit. Time was pressing.

Good afternoon everyone… was apparently all I needed to hear before a couple of waving ‘Sit here! Sit there!’ hands sprung up in the periphery of a very foggy quick glance with eyes missing appropriate eye-wear, across a mini-sea of happily expectant parents, who had, unlike me, arrived in plenty of time and already executed the well understood first order of duty to sit down. 

Looking anywhere but straight down in front of me to miss the only available chair, a very kind mother of two saw immediately my issue long before I did and indicated that the seat next to her (and under my nose) was vacant, on the end of the row near the front. A great position, near the entrance way to the annex and near enough to the virtual rostrum where the performances would take place. A quick halt to the shower of camera phones being offered-up more rapidly than opinions from a cyclist at the Albert Pier filter-in-turn (yes bikes are vehicles too) with aI’ll film it -I’ll message you, it was a perfect spot. Formalities of unwritten directions complied with, step one: Find a seat “tick vg”. 


To the school’s credit it was a reassuringly informal formal-affair where those watching could, if they wanted, flit between the annex and the canteen for a much-needed intake of fluid in a rather hot Guernsey afternoon. There wasn’t only water on offer but it was pretty much all anyone was drinking after a hot commute ‘cross town before the familiar and well-trodden discussion of why twenty-two degrees in a late-afternoon Guernsey can feel hotter than a covid suffering armour-clad Chris Hemsworth dancing the Bossa Nova at Belvoir. Informal the arrangement may have been but it was well understood. 

I think it’s important to point out at this – point - that whilst this was in theory possible, no one did pop out for a quick sip at first, however hot a day it was; least not until the first few performances had taken place and I suspect, like me, only after one’s own offspring had utterly beguiled in their terminating notes. Technically any one of us watching had the ability to reject the prevailing great unsaid and dash for a quick drink right away, but that was not how the game was understood. 

Actually all one had to do was to find a suitable pause in proceedings for mislaid accompaniment music for example, and use that to serve as cover to exit to the canteen. But we all knew this. No one wrote it down. As long as the great unsaid was followed we all somehow knew precisely what to do and when to do it, informal rules better understood than those for a multi-kiosk single line post-office queue. 

In fact it won’t take you much Google-GPT’ing to discover that (according to Adrian Furnham, a Professor of Psychology at UCL) we understand the unwritten rules in ‘the queue’ very well indeed. Amongst which are that we can only tolerate a gap of six inches, a distance beyond which we will all become stressed and absolutely no queue jumping. Quote Dutch research Furnham was that we believe that inequalities between people should be minimised and everyone should have autonomy to pursue goals with equal opportunity. That won’t however stop people trying to jump the queue. But things can be done about that. Picture yourself at Envoy House. 

Putting aside for the moment the masters in computer-science-GCHQ-code-cracking that is required to hack a two-digit code out of a computer system merely in order to return a child’s ill-fitting rash-vest, and the queue issues, if ever there were any, are dealt with by the subtly brilliant placement of gondolas. 

These gentle but formal structures serving last minute stationary ensure that always, a single queue is formed. Where there might have been before, there is now no room for misunderstanding. 


Last month at the end of July, the UK enacted the aptly named (don’t laugh) Illegal Migration Bill. Putting aside the content with respect to avoiding international obligations on human rights and asylum for another day, it enabled the UK to queue jump willy-nilly in our ownGuernsey-Post office at the whim of Suella Braverman. Whilst the Envoy House queue-jumping miscreant can expect a sharp rebuke, we said nothing. But does it matter? 

Some might say we agree with the content. Does it matter that laws can be passed here to disapply rights, and if we agree, we should remain silent? The great room-elephant is surely there: What if we don’t agree? Will it ever matter in the future? Can’t we just not-register laws at the Royal Court like we have on rare occasion done before? 

We don’t ignore this, we just don’t like it. Our heads were raised with the then Fisheries Bill. Our heads were raised further at a letter of from Messer’s Hodge and Mitchell on the public register of beneficial owners (the former too on our inability to investigate Lager Sylt) but these largely didn’t affect the laws of fundamental rights and freedoms of the type we were being told to curtail by the Illegal Migration Bill now ‘Act’; the variation of which can, like the Fisheries Act, be made via the back-door. 

I am not sure when it came to be that we decided to look the other way and abandon democratic mandate for laws that can be amended by a single UK MP. Perhaps this back-door provision will now be found in all future UK legislation, so that the mother of all parliaments can apply what it likes to what it clearly sees as a daughter assembly. We have made the point before, but it is hardly a line in the sand. 

In the passing of the Financial Services Bill in a letter on 7th March 2019 to our then Chief Minister, Hodge states that in her view “the UK has sufficient legal powers to compel the Crown Dependencies…” to dance the hula I imagine, completely blind to the high international standards our financial services operate under daily. 

On this, the Bailiwicks responded jointly and quoted the then ever-so-slightly-less legendary future spider-broach-clad Baroness Hale of Richmond, that it should be very slow to seek to impose their will upon Guernsey and Jersey. But let’s be clear, it can be done and it is being done again, and again. 

You see, when it came to the illegal suspension of parliament to shut down Brexit scrutiny, it didn’tactually say anywhere that ‘you may not shut down the post office queue’, so Boris tried it. Prorogation was within the rules technically, but just not cricket (upon Bairstow and Carey another day!). Nothing was written down then. So it happened. For a while. Then it was fixed. 

‘So what?’ was your next question and can’t we just go back to our red-milk and Frosties? Well, no, and I’ll tell you why. 

You see if any parent in the concert had tried to arrange things differently it would have been nearly impossible: to the extent (that this tortured analogy will allow) that the parent was not part of the arrangement which led to the concert itself and the engagement would have been too late and at the wrong level. 

We need to remember that for this UK government we are in effect living in legislative ‘peace time’ whereas the next one might not be so disinclined as to interfere, and our self-created power not to register a law might not be enough. Those like me who started life in the UK and now find themselves a happy permanent member of this mighty sleeping baby-giant tour-de-force bountiful-beauty of an island community (yes, it is currently not raining) will not want to see its democracy eroded. It’s ingrained, in just the same way as our feelings about a queue. 

As the new school year approaches and the UK summer parliamentary recess ends, there is plenty of time to articulate our collective political view on this topic ahead of next UK general election. Put another way, whilst there are lots of things to do, it’sperhaps time for this issue to join that queue. Let’s just hope they don’t make us complete an electronic form… 

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