LONDON– Queen Elizabeth has approved a controversial request from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend UK Parliament from mid-September, shortening the time available to lawmakers to block a no-deal Brexit. The move was earlier decried by critics as a “constitutional outrage.”
An order to “prorogue” parliament was passed by the monarch on Wednesday afternoon, the Privy Council, a body of senior politicians who act as the Queen’s official advisers, confirmed in a statement.
The suspension will begin no sooner than Monday September 9 and no later than Thursday September 12 and last until October 14.
Brexit is due to happen on October 31, and Johnson has promised the UK will leave the European Union on that date with or without a deal.
The majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) are against a no-deal Brexit. But they will now effectively have several days — after returning from summer break on September 3 — to pass any legislation to prevent a hard break with the EU before parliament is prorogued.
Lawmakers will then have another week after the Queen’s Speech in mid-October.
British governments usually arrange for a new parliamentary session to begin every year. New sessions start with a Queen’s Speech, which outlines the government’s legislative priorities for the session. But former Prime Minister Theresa May allowed the previous session to drag on, as she repeatedly attempted to persuade lawmakers to pass her Brexit deal.
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, called Johnson’s maneuverings a “constitutional outrage.”
“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 Bercow, whose role as speaker requires him to remain politically impartial at all times.
“Shutting down Parliament would be an offense against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives.”
‘Do or Die’
During the televised interview on Wednesday, Johnson denied that he was seeking to prevent Parliament from limiting his Brexit plans.
“That is completely untrue. If you look at what we’re doing, we’re bringing forward a new legislative program,” he said.
In a letter to lawmakers, the Prime Minister said Parliament “will have the opportunity to debate the Government’s overall program, and approach to Brexit, in the run up to EU Council, and then vote on this on 21 and 22 October, once we know the outcome of the Council.”
Johnson is demanding that the EU reopens the Brexit agreement, which European leaders have been reluctant to do.
However, “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,” Johnson wrote.
But his “do or die”‘ position on Brexit has prompted a number of UK opposition party leaders to agree on a strategy to avert a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday.
Options include “the possibility of passing legislation and a vote of no confidence,” according to a joint statement from the UK’s Labour Party, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Independent Group for Change.
Wednesday’s announcement sent the pound falling around 1% against the dollar and left opposition politicians, as well as some ruling Conservative party members, furious.
“Unless MPs come together to stop him next week, today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy,” Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter. She later said Johnson was “wrong” for “pulling the Queen into this position.”
“It’s not democracy, it’s dictatorship,” Sturgeon said, while speaking to media in Edinburgh Wednesday.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn protested against the move in a letter to the monarch.
“I’ve protested in the strongest possible terms,” Corbyn said. “What the Prime Minister is doing is a sort of smash and grab on our democracy in order to force through a no-deal exit of the European Union.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas called Johnson “cowardly” on Twitter, while Conservative lawmaker Philip Hammond called it “profoundly undemocratic.”
“It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic,” Hammond, a former finance minister, tweeted.
Currently, Johnson has a parliamentary majority of one. This makes him vulnerable to losing a vote of no-confidence. While bringing down his government wouldn’t automatically stop a no-deal Brexit, it could trigger a series of events that leads to him requesting a Brexit extension.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, whose party props up the minority Conservative government, welcomed the news on Wednesday.
“This has been the longest Parliamentary Session since the Union of England and Scotland in 1707,” she said in a statement.
“We welcome the decision to hold a Queen’s Speech marking the start of a new session of Parliament,” adding that the Conservative Party and the DUP’s confidence and supply arrangement would need to be revisited before the new session.