British opposition demands vote on parliament suspension

Leaders condemn Johnson’s move in joint statement amid trio of legal challenges

Protesters have gathered outside the British parliament to denounce prime minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend the UK parliament for more than a month before Brexit. Video: Reuters

 

British opposition leaders have demanded that Boris Johnson reverse his decision to suspend parliament or put it to a Commons vote.

In a rare joint statement, Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, The Independent Group for Change and the Green Party condemned the prime minister’s move to prorogue parliament for five weeks.

Mr Johnson said the suspension was necessary so he could put forward his government’s new legislative agenda, and in order to do this through a Queen’s Speech, the current two-year session of parliament must formally come to an end.

However, anti-no-deal MPs believe it is an attempt to shorten the amount of time they have to try to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

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In a statement, the opposition leaders said: “It is our view that there is a majority in the House of Commons that does not support this prorogation, and we demand that the prime minister reverses this decision immediately or allows MPs to vote on whether there should be one.”

The statement continues: “We condemn the undemocratic actions of Boris Johnson following his suspension of parliament until October 14th.

“There is no mandate from the public for a damaging no-deal Brexit. The prime minister is shutting down parliament with the sole aim of stopping MPs from avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

“This will be the longest prorogation in recent history, and one that comes at a critical moment in the history of our respective nations and the Brexit process.

“Voters are being deprived of the opportunity to have their representatives hold the government to account, make any key decisions, and ensure there is a lawful basis for any action that is taken.”

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Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg hit back at the prime minister’s critics, saying the outpouring of outrage it triggered was “phoney”.

It comes as backbench Tory rebels have started working with opposition MPs to try to force the prime minister not to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.

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Former justice secretary David Gauke said next week would be crucial for MPs hoping to block a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Gauke said: “We are very concerned about what no deal is going to involve.

“It’s probably not in our interests to be very specific about what the proposals might be as to how we would do that.

“I think there are many of us who would be inclined to say that parliament doesn’t need to take action for a while yet.

“But given the announcement from [Wednesday] that parliament is only going to be sitting for a week next week and then really at the end of October, by which point it will be too late for parliament to do anything effective.

“Then I do think we have to look at what our options are next week.”

Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke said he would be willing to vote against the government in a confidence vote to try to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Asked if he would be willing to bring down the government, Mr Clarke told ITV News: “If it’s the only way of stopping us plunging into the disaster of a no-deal Brexit, then yes.”

Injunction

Mr Johnson is facing legal challenges in London, Edinburgh and Belfast as the backlash to his decision to suspend parliament for more than a month in the run-up to Brexit continued unabated.

The high court in Belfast on Thursday held an urgent hearing for an injunction against him.

That case follows similar legal battles launched in Scotland and England by the Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman, Joanna Cherry, and the campaigner Gina Miller. The Northern Ireland case is being brought by Raymond McCord, a victims’ rights campaigner who has argued that a no-deal Brexit is a breach of the Belfast Agreement. “We are seeking an urgent injunction to compel Johnson to reverse his advice to the queen to prorogue parliament,” said Mr McCord’s lawyer, Ciarán O’Hare, after the 20-minute hearing on Thursday morning.

The lord chief justice broke his summer holiday to hear the prima facie arguments. He instructed the applicant and the government’s defence barrister to return on Friday at 10am with expanded legal arguments for a full hearing.

Mr Johnson received a double blow as Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and whip Lord Young of Cookham quit their posts on Thursday.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator made it clear he was not ready to retreat on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

Michel Barnier tweeted: “PM Boris Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 Oct. In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland. It is our duty & our responsibility.”

In her resignation speech, Ms Davidson highlighted “the conflict I have felt over Brexit”.

Lord Young, a Government whip in the upper house who served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher, was more direct, saying he was “very unhappy” with the prime minister’s decision to prorogue parliament for an extended period as the October 31st deadline for Brexit looms.

Irish reaction

Meanwhile, Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee has said it is important to remain calm and consistent following Mr Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament. “There has always been give and take, we cannot give any more,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The Minister acknowledged that with nine weeks to go to the Brexit deadline “it is looking more likely” that there will be a no deal outcome and called on Mr Johnson to put forward alternative solutions to the backstop. – Agencies

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