Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday raised hackles in Westminster with a request to Queen Elizabeth to prorogue parliament earlier than scheduled in a move seen as ‘a very British coup’ to prevent MPs from holding his Brexit plans to account.
Parliament resumes after the holiday break on September 3 and the UK is due to leave the European Union on October 31. The sovereign is bound to accept the Johnson government’s advice.
MPs opposed to Johnson’s plan — including many ruling Conservative MPs — to leave the EU without an agreement if need be have been planning to use parliament to stop the eventuality, but may find their plans stymied by the prorogation.
Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament sent the pound south, while House of Commons speaker John Bercow called it a ‘constitutional outrage’, adding: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament from debating Brexit”.
With Brussels adamant on not re-opening the withdrawal deal reached with the Theresa May government and the Johnson government insisting on leaving the EU without an agreement if need be, the scene is set for a constitutional, legal and political showdown in the next few weeks.
Among the likely scenarios emerging are: Labour tabling a no-confidence motion, a new caretaker government taking over, and a mid-term election. The last election in 2017 was also a mid-term exercise called by May.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I am appalled at the recklessness of Johnson’s government, which talks about sovereignty and yet is seeking to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of its plans for a reckless No Deal Brexit. This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy”.
“That is why Labour has been working across Parliament to hold this reckless government to account, and prevent a disastrous No Deal which parliament has already ruled out. If Johnson has confidence in his plans he should put them to the people in a general election or public vote”.
John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, added: “Make no mistake, this is a very British coup. 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”.
Dominic Grieve, senior Conservative MP and former attorney general, described the move to suspend parliament days before it is due to do so as “outrageous”, indicating that he could vote against his party’s government during a no-trust motion.
A coalition of opposition parties led by Corbyn decided on Tuesday to act in unison to stop a no-deal Brexit, since that eventuality is seen to be economically debilitating to the United Kingdom, besides implications in other areas.
Grieve said: “If it is impossible to prevent prorogation then I think it is going to be very difficult for people like myself to keep confidence in the government and I could well see why the leader of the opposition would wish to table a motion for a vote of no confidence”.
“I’ve always been of the view that bringing down the administration which is made up of a party of which I am a member is something I would only do as a last resort…But if there is no other way of avoiding it it may be the only thing I can do”.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson has spoken to Queen Elizabeth to request an end to the current parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September.
Following the conclusion of the party conference season, when parliament goes into recess, the second session of this Parliament is expected to commence with the Queen’s Speech on October 14, leaving little time for MPs to legislate on Brexit by the due date of October 31.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland first minister, said: “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”.