A Journal of People report
Opposition MPs and Tory politicians alike are incensed at the announcement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked Britain’s queen to suspend parliament, with some calling it an attempted coup.
Following widespread rumors this week that Johnson would seek to suspend parliament, essentially reducing the time for MPs to hold more debates or potentially push for a further Brexit extension, Wednesday morning’s announcement has infuriated the political class across the UK.
UK Parliament Speaker of the House John Bercow pulled no punches in his assessment of the current state of affairs, calling the move “a constitutional outrage.”
“However, it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty,” he said.
Conservative MP, and the former chancellor of the exchequer under Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, Philip Hammond, echoed the speaker, and also dubbed the move a “a constitutional outrage.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott claimed Johnson was “aiming for a coup against parliament” in an overall strategy that she said was designed only to benefit US President Donald Trump.
A teleSUR report said:
On Wednesday Johnson moved to limit parliament’s opportunity to stop Brexit by cutting the amount of time it sits between now and EU exit day on Oct. 31, infuriating opponents who accused him of leading a “very British coup”.
In his most controversial move yet to take the country out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal, Johnson said he would set Oct. 14 for the Queen’s Speech – the formal state opening of a new session of parliament that is preceded by a suspension of the House of Commons.
That would effectively shut parliament from mid-September for around a month. Raising the stakes in the constitutional crisis gripping Britain, it could also force Johnson’s opponents to up their own game by calling a no-confidence vote in the government, potentially leading to an election. The news sent the pound down sharply.
Asked in a broadcast interview if he was trying to block politicians from delaying Britain’s departure from the EU, Johnson replied, “That is completely untrue, there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 (European Union leaders’) summit, ample time in parliament for MPs (Members of Parliament) to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues, ample time.”
The move provoked outrage amongst Johnson’s opponents and even some senior politicians in his own Conservative Party.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “Suspending Parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the prime minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal.”
He also wrote on Twitter, “Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of his plans for a reckless No Deal Brexit is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”
The first thing Labour will do is “attempt legislation to prevent what [the PM] is doing” followed by a no-confidence vote, Corbyn informed.
“Make no mistake, this is a very British coup,” John McDonnell, the second most powerful man in the opposition Labour Party, said. “Whatever one’s views on Brexit, once you allow a prime minister to prevent the full and free operation of our democratic institutions you are on a very precarious path.”
The U.S. President supported Johnson and said it “would be very hard” for Corbyn to seek a no-confidence vote against the prime minister as “Boris is exactly what the UK has been looking for.”
With just 65 days until exit day, parliamentarians are battling to prevent the prime minister from steering the country out of the EU without a transition deal, pitching one of Europe’s most stable countries into uncharted territory.
On Tuesday, the leaders of Britain’s opposition parties had agreed to seek to use parliamentary procedure to force Johnson to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit beyond Oct. 31. But with the prime minister finally showing his hand, they may try to bring him down instead.
With Johnson holding a working majority of just one seat in the 650-seat parliament, members of his Conservative Party who oppose a no-deal Brexit will have to decide where their loyalties lie.
“I think (a no-confidence vote) is more likely, because if it is impossible to prevent prorogation, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for people like myself to keep confidence in the government,” pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve said, using an alternative term for the suspension of parliament.
Netizens took to Twitter against this decision with the hashtag #StopTheCoup which is trending on the social media.
While suspending parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is the historical norm in Britain, the decision to limit parliamentary scrutiny weeks before the country’s most contentious policy decision in decades prompted an immediate outcry.
Parliament’s speaker John Bercow, a powerful figure who has shown a willingness to break procedural precedents in order to ensure lawmakers can debate Brexit fully, said it was “blindingly obvious” the move was designed to restrict debate.
“Shutting down Parliament would be an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives,” Bercow, who voted to remain in the EU in 2016, said in a statement.
Philip Hammond, a member of Johnson’s party and former finance minister who has pledged to block a disorderly Brexit, said it would be a constitutional outrage if parliament cannot hold the government to account.
Johnson argued, however, that the move was designed to allow his government to press on with its domestic agenda.
Typically, a Queen’s Speech is held every year. Johnson is a new prime minister, who took over from Theresa May in July, and so would be expected to have his own legislative priorities.
Parliament returns from its summer break on Sept. 3 and had been expected to sit for two weeks before breaking up again to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences. Typically it begins sitting again in early October.
The Queen’s Speech is the formal state opening of a new session of parliament at which Queen Elizabeth, 93, reads a speech prepared by the government.
A Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14 would delay parliament’s return and leave lawmakers with just over two weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31. Those lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit will likely have to make their response next week if they are to avoid running out of time.
A BBC report – “Parliament to be suspended in September” – said:
Parliament will be suspended just days after MPs return to work in September – and only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline.
Boris Johnson said a Queen’s Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his “very exciting agenda”.
But it means the time MPs have to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October would be cut.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a “constitutional outrage”.
The Speaker, who does not traditionally comment on political announcements, continued: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Suspending Parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the prime minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal,” he said.
He said when MPs return to the Commons next Tuesday, “the first thing we’ll do is attempt legislation to prevent what [the PM] is doing”, followed by a vote of no confidence “at some point”.
Media captionCorbyn: “What is Boris Johnson so afraid of?”
Three Conservative members of the Queen’s Privy Council took the request to suspend Parliament to the monarch’s Scottish residence in Balmoral on Wednesday morning on behalf of the prime minister.
It has now been approved, allowing the government to suspend Parliament no earlier than Monday 9 September and no later than Thursday 12 September, until Monday 14 October.
Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was at the meeting with the Queen, said the move was a “completely proper constitutional procedure.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson said suggestions the suspension was motivated by a desire to force through a no deal were “completely untrue”.
He said he did not want to wait until after Brexit “before getting on with our plans to take this country forward”, and insisted there would still be “ample time” for MPs to debate the UK’s departure.
“We need new legislation. We’ve got to be bringing forward new and important bills and that’s why we are going to have a Queen’s Speech,” Mr Johnson added.
Legal precedent and challenge
Shutting down Parliament – known as prorogation – happens after the prime minister advises the Queen to do it.
The decision to do it now is highly controversial because opponents say it would stop MPs being able to play their full democratic part in the Brexit process.
A number of high profile figures, including former Prime Minister John Major, have threatened to go to the courts to stop it, and a legal challenge led by the SNP’s justice spokeswoman, Joanna Cherry, is already working its way through the Scottish courts.
After the announcement, Sir John said he had “no doubt” Mr Johnson’s motive was to “bypass a sovereign Parliament that opposes his policy on Brexit”, and he would continue to seek legal advice.
BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond said it was established precedent to prorogue Parliament before a Queen’s Speech, albeit generally more briefly, and rarely, if ever, at such a constitutionally charged time.
He said it was “Her Majesty’s Government” in name only and it was her role to take the advice of her ministers, so she would prorogue Parliament if asked to.
While it is not possible to mount a legal challenge to the Queen’s exercise of her personal prerogative powers, BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said a judicial review could be launched into the advice given to her by the prime minister – to determine whether that advice was lawful.
This has been an extraordinarily long Parliamentary session, and governments have the right to shut up shop and return to announce their proposals in a new one, with all the golden carriages, fancy Westminster costumes, banging of doors and splendour that goes with it.
But that new timetable means Parliament will be suspended for longer than had been expected – it’s only a matter of days, but those are days that might matter enormously.
Boris Johnson secured his place in No 10 by promising he’d do whatever it takes to leave the EU at Halloween, so this decisive and intensely risky plan will satisfy many of those who backed him.
But some others in his government are worried – moving now, even with the accompanying controversy, he sets the stage and the terms for an epic fight with MPs on all sides.
The PM says he wants to leave the EU on 31 October with a deal, but it is “do or die” and he is willing to leave without one rather than miss the deadline.
That position has prompted a number of opposition MPs to come together to try to block a possible no deal, and on Tuesday they announced that they intended to use parliamentary process to do so.
But with Parliament set to be suspended, opponents have only a few days next week to push for their changes.
Senior Tory backbencher and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the move by Mr Johnson could lead to a vote of no confidence – something opposition parties have left on the table as another option to stop no deal.
“There is plenty of time to do that if necessary [and] I will certainly vote to bring down a Conservative government that persists in a course of action which is so unconstitutional,” he said.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said MPs must come together to stop the plan next week, or “today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy”.
Mr Johnson has written to MPs to outline his plan, adding: “There will be a significant Brexit legislative programme to get through but that should be no excuse for a lack of ambition!”
He mentioned the NHS, tackling crime, infrastructure investment and the cost of living as important issues.
He also called on Parliament to show “unity and resolve” in the run up to the 31 October so the government “stands a chance of securing a new deal” with the EU.
But a senior EU source told the BBC’s Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming the bloc’s position was clear and was not contingent on the machinations of the UK Parliament.
There has been considerable anger at Mr Johnson’s move from across the political spectrum.
Former Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond called it “profoundly undemocratic”.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, said it was a “dangerous and unacceptable course of action”.
“He knows the people would not choose a no deal and that elected representatives wouldn’t allow it. He is trying to stifle their voices,” she said.
The leader of the SNP in Westminster, Ian Blackford, accused Mr Johnson of “acting like a dictator”, while First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said he wanted to “close the doors” on democracy.
Media captionNicola Sturgeon says Boris Johnson is acting like a “tin pot dictator”
Others, though, have defended the plan.
Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly said setting out a legislative programme via a Queen’s Speech was what “all new governments do”.
US President Donald Trump tweeted his support for Mr Johnson, saying it “would be very hard” for Mr Corbyn to seek a no-confidence vote against the PM, “especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the UK has been looking for”.
Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips said MPs “only had themselves to blame” for the move.
She told BBC News: “They have made themselves the obstacle in front of delivering the referendum result. Boris Johnson is saying he now needs to remove that obstacle, and quite right too.”
The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, also welcomed the decision to suspend Parliament and have a Queen’s Speech, but said the terms of her party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives would now be reviewed.
“This will be an opportunity to ensure our priorities align with those of the government,” she added.
Prorogation in a nutshell
Media captionWhat does proroguing Parliament mean?
Parliament is normally suspended – or prorogued – for a short period before a new session begins. It is done by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister.
Parliamentary sessions normally last a year, but the current one has been going on for more than two years – ever since the June 2017 election.
When Parliament is prorogued, no debates and votes are held – and most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death.
This is different to “dissolving” Parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.
The last two times Parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech that was not after a general election the closures lasted for four and 13 working days respectively.
If this prorogation happens as expected, it will see Parliament closed for 23 working days.
MPs have to approve recess dates, but they cannot block prorogation.