A DEMOCRACY cannot be a democracy without the rule of law. Like the right to vote, take away the rule of law and a democracy is dead. The rule of law is the simple principle that “all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes”.

In other words, we are all equal under the law no matter who we are. The principle of the rule of law helped establish our democracy in the face of the tyrannical notion of the Divine Right of Kings – the idea that a monarch appointed by God is above authority.

Boris Johnson may have dreamed of being king of the world but sneaking his way into Number 10 doesn’t make him one. A Prime Minister is as subject to the rule of law as the rest of us. Etonian privilege is not a get out of jail free card.

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Yet Johnson seems prepared to flout the law in a way which would see any one of us land in court. The PM has said he’ll break the law which MPs have passed requiring him to seek an extension to the Brexit process from Brussels if there’s no deal by October 19.

If the PM acts illegally he would face court. If convicted, he should be jailed. This isn’t hyperbole. The former Director of Public Prosecutions in England, Lord MacDonald, says Johnson could be imprisoned if he ignores legislation.

When asked whether the PM could end up behind bars, MacDonald said: “It is by convention that if you are found guilty of defying a court order then you are jailed. A refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court which could find that person in prison.”

Senior legal figures are envisioning a moment when Johnson is forced into court on the end of an injunction and told to enact the law, refuses to do so, and is then shuffled off to the cells for contempt.

Johnson is already conspiring in plain sight to act illegally. He wrote to Tory members, saying of MPs, “they just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do”.

Cross-party MPs, including expelled rebel Tories, are taking legal advice and preparing to go to court to compel Johnson to seek a delay.

Johnson’s team of radical extremists seem excited about the prospect of illegality. Iain Duncan Smith encouraged Johnson to break the law saying he’d be seen as a “martyr” for Brexit if he was jailed.

David Lidington, de facto deputy PM during Theresa May’s administration, said Johnson would set a “dangerous precedent”, adding: “It is such a fundamental principle that we are governed by the rule of law that I hope no party would question it.”

With depressing inevitability, Johnson’s increasingly dangerous aide, Dominic Cummings, lies behind the threat to democracy. Cummings has a “different interpretation” of the law, and seemingly told Johnson he didn’t need to worry about legal niceties.

Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General who had the Tory whip removed last week, said of Johnson, “he can’t ignore the law. A Prime Minister is subject to the law of the land just like anybody else”.

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Yet Johnson’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, says the government will “test to the limit” what was lawfully required of this revolutionary administration. Threatening the rule of law, however, doesn’t seem to carry unanimity within the Johnson cabinet. There are risks of further of splits and resignations in the style of Amber Rudd who quit accusing Johnson of “an assault on decency and democracy” and “political vandalism”.

Johnson’s own Justice Secretary Robert Buckland warned the PM to “obey the law”. Buckland also made clear that as Lord Chancellor he has “taken an oath to uphold” the rule of law.

It seems likely that Johnson will add craven cowardice to his sins as he attempts to flout legislation. Johnson has drawn up a plan to destroy parliament’s attempts to ensure a Brexit extension to prevent a no deal Brexit. Fearing the long arm of the law, he may apply for a Brexit extension from Brussels while simultaneously trying to get the EU to reject it. He could send two letters to Brussels – one requesting the extension, the other saying the government doesn’t want a delay. Downing Street sources now speak openly of “sabotage” of any extension.

However, these Machiavellian plots would break the law. Lord Sumption, former Supreme Court justice, said such actions wouldn’t be legal. The new law, says Sumption, demands that Johnson apply for an extension. “Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension,” Sumption explained. “And to send the letter and then try and neutralise it seems to me to be plainly a breach of the act.”

Plaid Cymru says that opposition party leaders should try to impeach Johnson if he ignores the no deal law.

Johnson has long been described as Britain’s ‘mini Trump’ – but he isn’t. Johnson is no demagogue or populist strongman – he’s a wealthy amoral chancer so out of his depth he’s drowning. Trump is the master of chaos. Trump creates disorder and thrives on it. Johnson is the master of nothing. He’s a prisoner in Downing Street. He looks embarrassed and humiliated at his own failure. His attempts to use chaos to further his political aims have backfired. And now, he could be facing jail time.

The irony is that while our democracy is at greatest risk, as the PM plots to subvert the law, Brexit has also shown us the deep roots of that democracy and how hard it is to destroy those roots. Those rebel Tories, who had the whip withdrawn for backing the extension bill, put democracy, country and principle before their party. Parliament flexed its muscles and showed that the will of the people – which parliament represents – can cow a Prime Minister.

Now that the legislature has shown it’s prepared to stand up and fight for democracy in the face of an out of control executive, the baton must pass to the courts so the judiciary can do what it was set up to do: be the bulwark in our defence of democracy.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year