Queen approves Boris Johnson request to suspend parliament

Opponents of no-deal Brexit denounce the move as a ‘coup’ by the prime minister

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 28 August 2019 15:59
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Boris Johnson confirms prorogation of parliament

Opponents of a no-deal Brexit have accused Boris Johnson of a “coup” against parliament, after it was announced that both the Commons and Lords will be suspended for more than a month in the run-up to the date of EU withdrawal.

The Queen approved an order from the prime minister for parliament to be “prorogued” from the second week in September until 14 October – just 17 days before the scheduled date of Brexit on Halloween.

Approval was given at a session of the Privy Council in Balmoral despite letters from Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson requesting urgent meetings with the Queen to urge her to withhold it.

Commons speaker John Bercow denounced the suspension of sittings – due to begin between 9 and 12 September – as a “constitutional outrage”, while former chancellor Philip Hammond described it as “profoundly undemocratic”.

Conservative former prime minister Sir John Major said he is seeking advice on the legality of Mr Johnson’s move, saying he had “no doubt” his motive was “to bypass a sovereign parliament that opposes his policy on Brexit”.

Mr Johnson insisted it was “completely untrue” to suggest he was shutting parliament because of Brexit.

But a snap YouGov poll of more than 5,700 voters found that 47 per cent agreed the move was “unacceptable”, against just 27 per cent who approved it.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Ruth Davidson is set to resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives on Thursday, though party insiders insisted her departure was not linked to her opposition to Johnson’s Brexit plans.

Boris Johnson’s letter to MPs announcing his plan to prorogue parliament (Downing Street/AP)

Downing Street aides said MPs would have the opportunity to discuss the government’s EU withdrawal plans during debate on the Queen’s Speech and to take part in amendable votes following a crunch European Council summit on 17 October.

But the move dramatically reduces the time available to MPs to attempt to pass legislation to block no deal and makes an early attempt to oust Mr Johnson in a vote of no confidence more likely.

Mr Bercow, who is holidaying with family, said he had received no advance notice of a prorogation, which he said represented “a constitutional outrage”

Speaker John Bercow has called 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 in shaping a course for the country,” said the speaker.

“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.”

The precise date of prorogation has not yet been fixed, but it seems likely it will not come before 11 September, as Commons liaison committee chair Sarah Wollaston revealed Mr Johnson had confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that he would give evidence to the panel of senior MPs on that day.

Mr Corbyn revealed that opponents of no-deal still aim to table legislation next week before moving on to a no-confidence motion “at some point”.

In his letter to the Queen, the Labour leader warned that Mr Johnson’s manoeuvre would “deprive the electorate of the opportunity to have their representatives hold the government to account”.

And he said: “There is a danger that the royal prerogative is being set directly against the wishes of a majority of the House of Commons.”

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

Mr Hammond, who has become a prominent backbench critic of no-deal since quitting government before Mr Johnson’s elevation, 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.”

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. The phone call to Balmoral was followed by a conference call with cabinet colleagues, who are understood to have voiced their support for the move.

The order was formally approved in a Privy Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon involving the Queen, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, government chief whip Mark Spencer and Conservative leader in the Lords Baroness Evans.

Mr Johnson said the Queen’s Speech would allow him to set out a new agenda focusing on “helping the NHS, fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living”.

Downing Street sources said the prime minister does not want to wait any longer to turn the government’s focus onto domestic issues after three years dominated by Brexit. He regards his pledge to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October with or without a deal as sorting out the Brexit issue and wants to move on to other topics, they said.

In a letter to MPs, Mr Johnson said they will have an opportunity to debate the government’s Brexit plans in the days following the Queen’s Speech, with amendable votes after a crunch Brussels summit on 17-18 October, at which it should become clear whether there is any prospect of a new deal.

No 10 pointed out that the Commons had anyway been expected to go into recess for three weeks at the end of September for the annual party conferences, and that prorogation means only four additional days on which the House will not sit.

But many MPs were understood to be ready to vote down the motion to approve the conference recess in order to give the Commons more time to debate Brexit, something which will not be possible if parliament is prorogued.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “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.”

Jeremy Corbyn accuses Boris Johnson of carrying out a 'smash and grab on our democracy' by asking the Queen to suspend Parliament

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Johnson was “acting like a dictator”, while Independent Group for Change MP Chris Leslie accused the PM of dragging the Queen into politics.

Tory grandee Lord Heseltine also described the prorogation was “a constitutional outrage” and former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin said it was “not a proper way to proceed”.

Ms Swinson said: “This is a crucial time in our country’s history, and yet our prime minister is arrogantly attempting to force through a no-deal Brexit against the democratic will. He is outrageously stifling the voices of both the people and their representatives.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas wrote to the PM to accused him of “utter disregard of basic democratic standards”.

But the DUP, which props up Mr Johnson’s minority administration in the Commons, backed the move, which is likely to mean a lucrative renegotiation of their agreement with Tories.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage described prorogation as “a positive move”.

And US president Donald Trump signalled his support for Mr Johnson, who he met at the G7 summit in Biarritz over the weekend.

“Would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to seek a no-confidence vote against new prime minister Boris Johnson, especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the UK has been looking for, and will prove to be ‘a great one!’” tweeted the president.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of more than 70 MPs and peers are considering seeking an interim interdict in the Court of Session to block prorogation of parliament.

Planned protests are taking place in London where thousands have gathered around Westminster calling out the prime minister’s decision. Other protests across Britain have sprung up in wake of the news, including Edinburgh, Manchester, Cambridge and Cardiff.

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