Boris Johnson has asked the Queen to suspend parliament for more than a month, reducing the amount of time that rebels have to stop a no deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister this morning requested that the Queen end the current parliamentary session “in the second sitting week in September” and return on 14 October, when a new Queen’s Speech, detailing the legislative agenda of Johnson’s government, will be held.
MPs are currently on summer recess, and will return on 3 September. It is thought the suspension will start on 9 September.
The move means parliament will be suspended for nearly five weeks, narrowing the timetable in which Remainer MPs are able to thwart the Prime Minister’s plan to take the UK out of the European Union deal or no deal.
In a letter to MPs, Johnson said:
This morning I spoke to Her Majesty The Queen to request an end to the current
parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September, before commencing the
second session of this Parliament with a Queen’s speech on Monday 14 October. A
central feature of the legislative programme will be the Government’s number one
legislative priority, if a new deal is forthcoming at EU Council, to introduce a Withdrawal
Agreement Bill and move at pace to secure its passage before 31 October.
I fully recognise that the debate on the Queen’s Speech will be an opportunity for
Members of Parliament to express their view on this Government’s legislative agenda
and its approach to, and the result of, the European Council on 17-18 October. It is right
that you should have the chance to do so, in a clear and unambiguous manner.
Johnson said he would use the Queen’s Speech to “bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit”.
The Prime Minister told Sky News it was “completely untrue” that he was trying to prevent MPs from blocking a no-deal.
“We are bringing forward a new legislative programme on crime, hospitals, making sure we have the education funding we need,” he said.
“There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial 17 October summit in parliament for MPs to debate the EU, debate Brexit and all the other issues.”
The October European Council, where hopes of an 11th hour change to the Withdrawal Agreement are currently pinned, will take place on 17 and 18 October. Johnson said MPs would then vote on any changes on 21 and 22 October.
Heading off claims that the move was designed to stop MPs derailing the Prime Minister’s plans, James Cleverly, Tory party chairman, tweeted: “Or to put it another way: Government to hold a Queen’s Speech, just as all new Governments do.”
But MPs, even from Johnson’s own party, were unimpressed.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond tweeted: “It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.”
Speaker John Bercow blasted the move as “a constitutional outrage”.
He added: “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… 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.”
Ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve told Sky News the timing and length of the prorogation of Parliament is “completely unprecedented” and showed “amazing contempt for parliament on the part of the Prime Minister”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn added: “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… If Johnson has confidence in his plans he should put them to the people in a general election or public vote.”
John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, 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.”
Fellow Labour MP and chair of the Health Select Committee Yvette Cooper branded it “deeply dangerous and irresponsible”.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, said Johnson had “thrown down the gauntlet to parliamentary democracy”, adding: “His declaration of war will be met with an iron fist”.
Yesterday, opposition MPs agreed to take a legislative approach to blocking a no-deal Brexit, however today’s move means there is limited time for such a tactic to work.
That could make a vote of no confidence more likely, however instead of delivering control to backbenchers it could result in an election being called for shortly after Halloween – after the UK has left the EU.
Meanwhile, Sajid Javid’s first major speech as chancellor, which was due to take place today, was cancelled at the last minute. It is now due to take place on 4 September, the day after MPs return.
Sources told City A.M. the decision had come from Number 10, and suggested it could be pre-election planning.
“It’s not unfair to say they [Number 10] are talking about one as if it [an election] is happening. The question is when is it happening,” said one.
Main image: Getty