On August 28, the Queen approved Boris Johnson’s request to “prorogue,” or suspend, parliament just days after it returns from summer recess next week, leaving MPs with just the time between 2 September to the 11, and from 14 October to 31 October, to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit. MPs and campaigners across the political spectrum have reacted with outrage over the prime minister’s prorogation plans. A cross-party group of MPs has vowed to try everything in their power to avert the PM’s plans.
Conservative MP and People’s Vote advocate Dominic Grieve called the move “an outrageous act”, and warned it could lead to a vote of no confidence in Johnson, saying: “This government will come down.”
And Anna Soubry, leader of the Independent Group for Change party, said in a tweet that it was “outrageous that Parliament will be shut down at a moment of crisis as we face crashing out of the EU with no deal & for which there is no mandate.
“Our democracy is under threat from a ruthless PM elected by less than 100K Con members.”
Anti-Brexit activists have been gathering in across the UK over the move, while more than 1.4million people and counting as of Thursday have signed a petition urging Johnson to do a U-turn.
But the prime minister defended the decision, saying it is “completely untrue” that suspending Parliament is undemocratic.
IS THERE A PRECEDENT FOR THIS?
According to the BBC, the last two times that parliamentary suspensions happened when it was not after a general election, they lasted for four days. At almost five weeks, Johnson’s prorogation of parliament will be the longest in more than 40 years. Theresa May’s former legislative advisor wrote in the Daily Telegraph that, in 1948, a special short parliamentary session of 10 days was introduced to speed up the passage of the 1949 Parliament Act. She says: “This is not to be done lightly, but there is a historical precedent. In 1948 a new Parliament Bill to reduce the power of the Lords was being blocked by peers, but powers… which would allow the government to override the Lords could only be used if there had been a delay over three ‘sessions’. A special short session of 10 days was therefore arranged.”
Suspension also happened in 1628 under Charles 1, who ruled the country as an executive monarch before Oliver Cromwell did the same, and it also happened during the Great Reform Crisis in 1831 and under John Major in 1997.
IS A NO-DEAL THE ONLY DEAL?
After months of threats and bluffs to cancel parliament so Johnson can force through no-deal, it looks like the plan is finally revealed. Everything that Johnson has done so far since becoming PM has been to one end – achieving Brexit on October 31 – “do or die.” Experts have been warning that the scenario would have major implications because the UK's membership in the European Union touches on almost every aspect of the country's economy.
The government is not acting unconstitutionally. A large part of the power of the executive is its control of parliamentary time, including the ability to choose the timing of a Queen’s Speech. Johnson is using his legitimate power to make life more difficult for those who oppose its policy.
Although the new timetable leaves parliament a vanishingly small window to properly scrutinize the government or stop no-deal, MPs have not lost the ability to respond and they still have time to block the government. And in an extreme, nuclear option, that could force them to fall back on Plan B -- a vote of no-confidence in the government in late October. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell confirmed a no-confidence motion was “on the table” as an option. The problem is, for that to succeed, they need Conservative MPs to vote against their own party, which was always thought to be a tall order. And if no-one else can win a confidence vote in the House of Commons – and there’s no sign that anyone else could – legislation provides for the sitting PM to call a new election on the date of his choice.
Gina Miller, the activist who famously defeated Theresa May’s government in the courts in 2016 over the then-prime minister’s decision to trigger Article 50 without MPs’ consent, is back in the limelight in a bid to stop what she dubbed an “anti-democratic” move, has asked judges to hear her lawyers’ case before September 9 – the earliest date the Prime Minister could suspend sittings. The pro-EU campaigner said: “This is a brazen attempt, of truly historical magnitude, to prevent the executive being held accountable for its conduct before Parliament.”
Labour and opposition parties confirmed on Thursday they will go ahead with attempts to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31 using legislation. The plan was agreed earlier this week in an hour-long meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems, SNP, Change UK, Plaid Cymru, and Greens - a day before Johnson took his bombshell move.
But they now face a race against time to push complex laws through the House of Commons and Lords in just six or seven parliament sitting days before September 12 and the government could use clever mechanisms, including several set-piece debates, to prevent anti No Deal MPs debating their own legislation. MPs will begin with an emergency debate on Tuesday, the first day back, followed by full-blown legislation in a bid to block no-deal.