The Queen has approved Boris Johnson’s plan for an extended suspension of Parliament, in a move which will hamper efforts by MPs to thwart a no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister will temporarily close down the Commons from the second week of September until October 14, when there will be a Queen’s Speech to open a new session of Parliament.
The Queen approved the order to prorogue Parliament no earlier than September 9 and no later than September 12, until October 14.
Opposition leaders have written to the monarch in protest and Commons Speaker John Bercow said the move was a “constitutional outrage” designed to stop Parliament debating Brexit.
The Prime Minister said a Queen’s Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his “very exciting agenda”.
Boris Johnson tells MPs they’ll vote on Brexit plans on 21 & 22 October – after a crucial EU summit on 17 October pic.twitter.com/sp8UF6TAl9
— Paris Gourtsoyannis (@thistlejohn) August 28, 2019
Tory backbencher Dominic Grieve called the move “an outrageous act”.
In response to the report, Independent Group for Change MP Chris Leslie wrote on Twitter: “If true, this undemocratic manoeuvre to try and shut down Parliament must be fought every step of the way.
“How totally underhanded of Boris Johnson to make the Queen sign off on this plot it in a secret ceremony up in Balmoral. The House of Commons must assemble and veto this.”
What could it mean for Brexit?
Opposition MPs met yesterday to try to agree a united front against a no-deal Brexit.
Their most likely tactic to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31 is through bringing legislation to the Commons that would change this being the default position.
MPs have already done this once – in April they passed a law forcing ex-PM Theresa May to ask for an extension to the UK’s EU membership.
However, there are limited opportunities to take control of the parliamentary timetable, so an emergency debate may be required.
Dr Hannah White, deputy director at the Institute for Government (IfG), said that having an emergency debate under Standing Order No 24 (SO24) looked like the “most live possibility” for MPs seeking to avert a no-deal Brexit.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s been this agreement now that they think legislation is the way forward, but unfortunately I think that having agreed that may be the easy part.
“The difficult part is to find an opportunity to bring that legislation into the House of Commons and then to get it through and to find enough MPs who want support that.”
She added: “It happened in March and then there were multiple attempts before the legislation was actually successfully passed. This is around time is much tighter and the opportunities are likely to be fewer.”
‘Dark day for UK democracy’ – reaction to the news
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he “protested in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my party” in a letter to the Queen and called for a meeting alongside other opposition members of the Privy Council.
We're doing everything we can to stop Boris Johnson's smash and grab against our democracy. pic.twitter.com/hox20SNOoC
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) August 28, 2019
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson described the move to suspend Parliament as “dangerous and unacceptable” and that her party would oppose it.
By suspending Parliament to force through a No Deal, Boris Johnson and the Government would remove the voice of the people. It is a dangerous and unacceptable course of action which the @LibDems will strongly oppose. https://t.co/MDxstRXTHM
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) August 28, 2019
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that today “will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy”.
So it seems that Boris Johnson may actually be about to shut down Parliament to force through a no deal Brexit. Unless MPs come together to stop him next week, today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy. https://t.co/68lFnEgiyr
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 28, 2019
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said the move represents “a constitutional outrage”.
Commons Speaker John Bercow says "it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country" calling the Government's plans a "constitutional outrage"
— Sky News Breaking (@SkyNewsBreak) August 28, 2019
Labour MP Jess Phillips accused the Government of trying to “game a system just for the sake of winning a game”.
Before entering parliament I had truly never met the kind of people who game a system just for the sake of winning a game. I was not raised in a place where people genuinely want to prove they are the biggest big dog for being its sake. It's been a shock.
— Jess Phillips Esq., M.P. (@jessphillips) August 28, 2019
Tory Party chairman James Cleverly claimed that the move was perfectly normal.
Or to put it another way:
Government to hold a Queen’s Speech, just as all new Governments do. https://t.co/fgKSmLdOzb
— James Cleverly MP (@JamesCleverly) August 28, 2019
The last two times Parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech that did not follow a general election, the closures lasted for four and 13 working days respectively.
If this prorogation goes to the Government’s plan, it will see Parliament closed for 23 working days.
Boris Johnson’s statement in full:
“I hope that you had an enjoyable and productive summer recess, with the opportunity for some rest ahead of the return of the House.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the Government’s plans for its business in Parliament.
“As you know, for some time parliamentary business has been sparse. The current session has lasted more than 340 days and needs to be brought to a close – in almost 400 years only the 2010-2012 session comes close, at 250 days. Bills have been introduced, which, while worthy in their own right, have at times seemed more about filling time in both the Commons and the Lords, while key Brexit legislation has been held back to ensure it could still be considered for carry-over into a second session. This cannot continue.
“I therefore intend to bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit. There will be a significant Brexit legislative programme to get through but that should be no excuse for a lack of ambition!
“We will help the NHS, fight violent crime, invest in infrastructure and science and cut the cost of living.
“This morning I spoke to Her Majesty The Queen to request an end to the current parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September, before commencing the second session of this Parliament with a Queen’s speech on Monday 14 October. A central feature of the legislative programme will be the Government’s number one legislative priority, if a new deal is forthcoming at the EU Council, to introduce a Withdrawal Agreement bill and move at pace to secure its passage before 31 October.
“I fully recognise that the debate on the Queen’s Speech will be an opportunity for Members of Parliament to express their view on this Government’s legislative agenda and its approach to, and the result of, the European Council on 17-18 October. It is right that you should have the chance to do so, in a clear and unambigious manner.
“I also believe it is vitally important that the key votes associated with the Queen’s Speech and any deal with the EU fall at a time when Parliamentarians are best placed to judge the Government’s programme. Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the Government’s overall programme, and approach to Brexit, in the run up to the EU Council, and then vote on this on 21 and 22 October, once we know the outcome of the Council. Should I succeed in agreeing a deal with the EU, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Bill required for ratification of the deal ahead of 31 October.
“Finally, I want to reiterate to colleagues that these weeks leading up to the European Council on 17/18 October are vitally important for the sake of my negotiations with the EU. Member States are watching what Parliament does with great interest and it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by Parliament. In the meantime the Government will take the responsible approach of continuing its preparations for leaving the EU, with or without a deal.
“The Leader of the Commons will update the House in the normal fashion with regard to business for the final week. For now, I can confirm that on Monday 9 September both Houses will debate the motions on the first reports relating to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (NIEFA). Following these debates we will begin preparation to end the Parliamentary session ahead of a Queen’s Speech.
“The Business Managers in both Houses will shortly engage with their opposite numbers, and MPs more widely, on plans for passing a deal should one be forthcoming. Decisions will also need to be taken about carrying over some of the bills currently before the House, and we will look to work constructively with the Opposition on this front. If agreement cannot be reached we will look to reintroduce the bill in the next session, and details on this will be set out in the Queen’s Speech.”
‘Ample time’ claim
When it was put to Mr Johnson that his critics will say proroguing Parliament is an insult to democracy and a way to deny MPs’ time, the Prime Minister said: “That is completely untrue. If you look at what we’re doing, we’re bringing forward a new legislative programme on crime, on hospitals, and making sure that we have the education funding that we need.
“And there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit, and all the other issues. Ample time.”
Asked whether he is planning a general election before the end of the year, Mr Johnson said: “No. What you should take from this is we’re doing exactly what I said on the steps of Downing Street, which is that we must get on now with our legislative domestic agenda.
“People will expect… I need to… we need to get on with the stuff that Parliament needs to approve on tackling crime, on building the infrastructure we need, on technology, on levelling up our education, and reducing the cost of living.
“That is why we need a Queen’s Speech, and we’re going to get on with it.”
Asked what he would say to members of the public who may be concerned, the PM said: “We need to get on with our domestic agenda and that’s why we’re announcing a Queen’s Speech for October 14.”