The 1922 committee of the UK conservative party contradicts Article 70 of the Bangladesh constitution

Published: 1 February 2022

By Jahirul Islam
Barrister (practising), England and Wales
Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court

The probable removal or the resignation of the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) is the current hot talk in British Politics. Mr Johnson is facing mounting pressure from his own MPs and other MPs of the House over the alleged breach of the Covid-19 Rules/Guidance during the lockdown. Bangladesh can learn from this situation as both countries have the parliamentary form of government in which accountability is the Key.

The 1922 Committee is the Conservative party’s parliamentary group in the UK House of Commons. It provides a way for backbenchers to co-ordinate and discuss their views independently of frontbenchers.

This committee holds and oversees leadership contests. In the current Parliament, if 54 (25%) or more of the party’s MPs write to this committee stating they have no confidence in Mr Johnson, he would face a vote of confidence. If he loses, a leadership contest will then take place. So, a prime minister/ party leader’s fate mainly lies in the hands of the backbenchers/normal MPs.

In Bangladesh, normal MP has no power, not all. They even cannot vote against their party decision in Parliament. In the UK, an MP can vote, defying the party decision. In Bangladesh, of course, normal MPs accuses article 70 of the constitution of not voting sideling the party decision. If MPs vote against their party in Bangladesh, they automatically lose their seats. As a result of Article 70, Bangladesh’s Parliament has served mainly as a rubber stamp for actions taken by the ruling party or coalition.

Mr Johnson was alleged to have participated in a No 10 drinks party held during England’s first national lockdown. He initially sidestepped questions over whether he attended the 20 May 2020 event. But a leaked email provided evidence supporting the allegation.

Finally, at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson did address the issue, confirming that he had attended the garden gathering for around 25 minutes to thank his staff for their efforts during the pandemic. He apologised, expressed empathy for the public fury in light of the personal sacrifices millions had made.  He urged the House to wait until the full inquiry report is published as an internal investigation has already been launched under the leadership of a senior civil servant, Sue Gray who has published a limited report and 31st January.  Met Police inquiry has also been started to see if any rules have been breached at No 10.

Now senior tory leaders are urging Mr Johnson to quit. The question is, if he does not agree to quit, is there any mechanism to compel him to quit? The answer is yes, the1922 committee to which, if 25 per cent of MPs write stating their no confidence in him, a confidence vote will take place. A substantial number of MPs would likely join and create pressure for the prime minister’s resignation if he is found breaching the rules.

Cabinet members Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are among the top favourites in the probable leadership contest, which may take place at the end of this year.

Can we imagine the level of accountability of the rulers of the UK where for a mere attendance for 25 minutes at a drinks party took place in the garden, the extension of the office of the prime minister is facing calls to resign? The philosophy of such a call is that people were told to follow the covid guidelines, and the Prime minister is too subject to the same guidelines. If the prime minister does not follow the rules he enacted, he will have no morals to rule the people.

In Bangladesh, how long it will take to have such a level of accountability is uncertain. But as an optimist, I cannot rule out that Bangladesh will never have such a level of accountability. The UK itself took centuries to reach such a level of accountability and civilisation.

To move forward for such accountability, the first thing to be done in Bangladesh is to reform Article 70 of the Bangladesh constitution. If such an article remains in place, MP cannot discharge their duties properly as they could not express their opinions independently. The MPs are not independent as they cannot vote against their party decisions, so they are party men, not the representative of the people in the true sense. Article 70 contradicts Article 7 of the same constitution. Article 7 states that people are the ultimate source of power, but because of the article, 70 people are not the source of power. Rather, political parties, not the people, are the source of all powers under this article. To make the people as the source of power, article 70 should be removed.

People advocating for article 70 can argue if a restriction like article 70 is not in place, Bangladesh will not have a stable government, MPs can easily become undisciplined and unruly. I submit to make an MP discipline, and ruly you should not have their hands and lips tied by article 70. If you do not allow an MP to think independently and use his own reason/common sense, they cannot contribute towards making a just and fair society for his constituents. Article 70, therefore, should be removed.