British parliament set for showdown over suspension

No-deal opponents set to block suspension move with no-confidence vote in PM

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

 

A showdown next week in the British parliament between Boris Johnson and opponents of a no-deal Brexit is now inevitable after the prime minister announced on Wednesday that he would suspend parliament for more than a month.

The “prorogation” of parliament, approved by Queen Elizabeth at Mr Johnson’s request, is ostensibly to allow for the new government to prepare its legislative programme to be presented to parliament in mid-October.

However, opponents of a no-deal Brexit accused Mr Johnson of seeking to deny parliament the opportunity to block a no-deal.

The UK was plunged into constitutional uproar when Mr Johnson suddenly announced his plans, which would leave parliament shut for five weeks between the second week of September and mid-October – opening again days before a crucial EU summit and only two weeks before the Brexit date of October 31st.

While parliament is routinely prorogued to prepare for a queen’s speech, which sets out the government’s plans, this is the longest suspension since 1945. Mr Johnson is now effectively daring opponents of his Brexit strategy to vote down his government.

The move was described by John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, as a “constitutional outrage”.

Democratic ‘offence’

Mr Bercow said it was “blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit”.

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“Shutting down parliament would be an offence against the democratic process and the rights of parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives,” he added.

Mr Johnson has insisted that the UK will exit the EU on October 31st, with or without a deal. However, a majority of MPs oppose leaving the bloc with no deal and will seek to force the government to change course when parliament returns next Tuesday.

Irish Ministers declined to comment on the move, insisting it was an internal British matter, though one junior minister, Michael Darcy, likened Mr Johnson to Oliver Cromwell in a tweet.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney met British Brexit secretary Steve Barclay in Paris on Wednesday, though sources said the two men found little common ground. Later, in an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney was highly critical of the British government’s approach.

The move to suspend parliament stunned opposition parties, undermining their plan – hatched only a day earlier – to use legislation next week to try to delay Brexit. Senior anti-Brexit figures admitted they would struggle to find the parliamentary time to push through a Bill to force Mr Johnson to delay the article 50 process.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said that, when parliament sits next week, the six opposition parties would move as quickly as possible. “The first thing we’ll do is attempt legislation to prevent what he’s doing, and secondly we’ll challenge him with a motion of no confidence at some point.”

‘Pretty outrageous’

The decision has increased calls by opposition MPs for an immediate no-confidence vote in the Johnson government, in an attempt to install a caretaker administration that would seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general who is among MPs seeking to prevent a no-deal Brexit, described Mr Johnson’s effort to prorogue parliament as “pretty outrageous” and said MPs would move “very quickly” to collapse his government.

But Downing Street officials claimed such a plan would fail because, even if the no-confidence vote was approved, Mr Johnson would not resign and MPs would struggle to get the numbers needed to form an alternative administration.

“If MPs pass a no-confidence vote next week, then we won’t resign,” said a government insider. “We won’t recommend another government. We’ll dissolve parliament [and] call an election between November 1st and 5th.”

Under the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the dissolution of parliament occurs automatically after either a 14-day “cooling-off” period following a no-confidence vote and no alternative government is formed, or if it has the support of two-thirds of MPs.

Adding to the sense of upheaval in British politics, it emerged on Wednesday evening that Ruth Davidson is expected to quit as leader of the Scottish Conservative party because of irreconcilable differences with Mr Johnson over Brexit and the pressures of motherhood.

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