MPs express outrage at Johnson’s move to suspend parliament

Commons speaker John Bercow joins chorus of condemnation of British PM’s decision

House of Commons speaker John Bercow said it was ‘blindingly obvious’ that Boris Johnson wa attempting to stop parliament from debating Brexit. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

House of Commons speaker John Bercow said it was ‘blindingly obvious’ that Boris Johnson wa attempting to stop parliament from debating Brexit. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Boris Johnson’s move to suspend parliament for five weeks in the run-up to Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU on October 31st has provoked uproar at Westminster, with some MPs accusing him of staging a coup.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow joined a chorus of condemnation over the plan, saying he had not been consulted about it, and labelling it a “constitutional outrage”.

The British prime minister wants to suspend parliament in early September and return on October 14th for the Queen’s Speech – the formal state opening of a new session of parliament – where he will set out his government’s legislative agenda.

Mr Bercow said that however it was dressed up, it was “blindingly obvious” that the purpose of the move was “to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country”.

He said that “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”.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the move was “an outrage and a threat to our democracy”.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Mr Corbyn has also written to Queen Elizabeth to express grave concern about Mr Johnson’s move, a party source said on Wednesday. Mr Corbyn also requested a meeting with the queen.

The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats said they had also written to the queen to express their concerns.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said on Wednesday afternoon: “It is appalling that the prime minister has forced opposition leaders into taking this action.”

Relationship threatened

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that the move to suspend parliament is “unlikely to help deliver a stable future EU-UK relationship”.

“‘Taking back control’ has never looked so sinister,” he tweeted. “As a fellow parliamentarian, my solidarity [is] with those fighting for their voices to be heard.”

“This action is an utterly scandalous affront to our democracy,” Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said on Twitter. “We cannot let this happen.”

Senior Conservative MP and former chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond said it would be a “constitutional outrage” if parliament could not hold the government to account.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon urged pro-EU MPs to act, describing Wednesday as a “dark one indeed for UK democracy” if they did not.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, tweeted: “Boris Johnson is acting like a dictator by attempting to shut down democracy to impose an extreme Brexit. He has no mandate, no majority, and he must be stopped.

“The SNP will be doing everything we can to stop Brexit and prevent a no-deal disaster. These disgraceful and undemocratic actions really do underline just how broken Westminster is. Scotland has been completely ignored throughout the Brexit process, and we now face being dragged out of the EU against our will on the hardest terms.

“It’s no wonder that support for independence and a fresh referendum is higher than ever. It’s now beyond doubt, that the only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is by becoming an equal and independent European country.”

‘Appalled’

Former Tory deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, in a statement to the PA news agency, said: “I am appalled by the government’s announcement.

“The government’s decision is a constitutional outrage. A government which is frightened of parliament is frightened of democracy.”

US president Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday that it would be difficult for Mr Corbyn to bring a no-confidence vote against Mr Johnson, saying: “Boris is exactly what the UK has been looking for.”

Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott accused Mr Johnson of aiming for “a coup against parliament”.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, said pro-Remain Tory MPs should now support efforts by opposition colleagues to block a no-deal Brexit. He tweeted: “Hopefully Tory MPs who thought they could ‘wait and see’ can now see plainly that they need to get behind the legislative plan discussed by Opposition leaders yesterday. Fast. Or play along with Johnson destroying Parliamentary democracy while pretending to ‘take back control’.”

One of the UK’s largest trade unions labelled the move to prorogue parliament a “coup”.

GMB, representing more than 600,000 people, said the move was “worrying for the very foundations of our democracy”. General secretary Tim Roache said: “This is now going even further than a backroom Westminster stitch-up, it’s a coup that leaves far too much power in the hands of an unelected prime minister.” – Reuters/PA