Boris Johnson confirms prorogation of parliament

Queen’s Speech date revealed as Boris Johnson outlines plan to suspend parliament

Announcement denounced as ‘constitutional outrage' by Commons speaker John Bercow

Andrew Woodcock
Political Staff
@andywoodcock,Benjamin Kentish@BenKentish
Wednesday 28 August 2019 11:26
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Parliament is to be suspended in the second week of September ahead of a Queen’s Speech on 14 October, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The move sparked outrage among pro-EU MPs, and was denounced by Speaker John Bercow as a “constitutional outrage”.

Former chancellor Philip Hammond, who has become a leader of backbench resistance to a no-deal Brexit, said: “It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.”

Another Conservative former minister, Justine Greening, condemned the PM’s move as a “grubby attempt” to force a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said it was an “affront to democracy”.

The action cuts drastically into the time available for MPs to pass legislation to prevent no-deal, and makes an attempt to remove Mr Johnson by a vote of no confidence in the next fortnight much more likely.

Representatives of anti-no deal parties including Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party were understood to be meeting in Westminster to discuss how to counter what former cabinet minister Sir Ed Davey described as a "coup d'etat" by the prime minister.

The pound tumbled on news of the latest political turmoil with just 64 days to go until Brexit.

In a morning of drama in Westminster, Mr Johnson revealed he had spoken to the Queen to request an end to the current parliamentary session, which has lasted since 2017 and is the longest for almost 400 years.

Mr Johnson said his plan would mean Parliament will be sitting on the date of Brexit itself and during a crucial European Council summit earlier in the month.

He said the Queen’s Speech would set out his government’s agenda focusing on “helping the NHS, fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living”.

(Getty

The PM said: “To deliver on the public’s priorities we require a new session and a Queen’s Speech.

“I believe it is vital that Parliament is sitting both before and after European Council and if, as I hope, a deal with the EU is forthcoming, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill required for ratification ahead of 31 October.”

But Mr Bercow, who is holidaying with family, said: ”I have had no contact from the Government, but if the reports that it is seeking to prorogue Parliament are confirmed, this move represents 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 in shaping a course for the country. At this time, one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, it is vital that our elected Parliament has its say. After all, we live in a parliamentary democracy.

“Shutting down Parliament would be an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives.

“Surely at this early stage in his premiership, the Prime Minister should be seeking to establish rather than undermine his democratic credentials and indeed his commitment to Parliamentary democracy.”

In a letter to all MPs, Mr Johnson said that they will be given a chance to discuss the government’s approach to Brexit “in a clear and unambiguous manner” in debate on the Queen’s Speech in the days before the European Council summit on 17-18 October.

Votes on the government’s agenda – including on its “number one legislative priority” of Brexit – will then take place on 21 and 22 October, once it is clear whether any breakthrough on a withdrawal deal has been achieved at the Brussels summit.

“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,” he said.

He urged MPs to show “unity” over the coming weeks, which will be “vitally important for the sake of my negotiations”.

“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,” he said.

“In the meantime, the Government will take the responsible approach of continuing its preparations for leaving the EU, with or without a deal.”

Mr Johnson said that, following the return of the Commons from its summer break on 3 September, there will be a debate on Northern Ireland on 9 September, after which the process of “prorogation” will take place to suspend sittings until the Queen’s Speech.

A group of MPs launched a legal bid earlier in the summer to stop Mr Johnson proroguing parliament, but he insists that the move is normal procedure ahead of a Queen’s Speech. Parliament typically does not sit for several days before the event, which marks the start of the parliamentary sitting.

Conservative rebel Dominic Grieve said proroguing parliament was “unprecedented” and claimed Mr Johnson would “come to regret it”.

If attempts to avoid prorogation failed, MPs would move “very quickly to a vote of no confidence in the government”, he said.

Mr Grieve said: “I think that the prime minister’s decision is deeply questionable and frankly pretty outrageous.

“He knows very well that we’re in the middle of a national crisis, he knows very well that parliament is extremely concerned about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. This has very little to do with starting a new session of parliament – it’s a deliberate attempt to make sure that parliament doesn’t sit for a five-week period.”

Former chancellor and prominent opponent of no-deal Philip Hammond said: “It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.”

Justine Greening, another Tory former cabinet minister, said: “Totally wrong to prorogue parliament. Everyone can see this for what it is, a grubby attempt to force no deal.”

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, called the decision “an utterly scandalous affront to our democracy”.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons home affairs committee tweeted: “Boris Johnson is trying to use the Queen to concentrate power in his own hands – this is a deeply dangerous and irresponsible way to govern.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: “Shutting down parliament would be an act of cowardice from Boris Johnson. 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.”

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