Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament: a cheat sheet
This week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to suspend – or ‘prorogue’ – parliament for a month.
What has Boris done now?
This week Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, announced plans to suspend – or prorogue – parliament for a month, and hold a Queen’s Speech to open a new session on 14th October. The decision was approved by the Queen, who has the final say on big decisions like this, yesterday.
So, from anytime between 9th and 12th September, Parliament will be suspended.
Is that normal?
Yes and no. It’s very normal for Parliament to be suspended for a period each year, especially around this season when the political party conferences take place. Nothing new there. Proroguing is basically just putting the brakes on without completely dissolving parliament, and the current session (which began June 2017) is actually the longest in 400 years. But the length of the suspension – more than a month, which is the longest suspension since 1945 – as well as the timing, just ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU on 31st October, is pretty fucked up.
Why would Boris do it then?
Good question. Boris claims that he is shutting down Parliament because he wants an opportunity to set-up new bills which will “level up” his proposed spending on his political agenda (basically things he’s been making big claims about, like the NHS and policing crime). He says it’s got nothing to do with Brexit – it’s just about him having his moment to shine.
Does anyone believe him?
Er, yeah, Jacob Rees-Mogg does. He, along with some other Conservative MPs who are loyal to Boris, maintain that this is simply “normal” government procedure. And he says that anyone opposing Boris’ decision is a “phoney” who just wants to stay in the EU. Zing!
But I thought Boris said it’s not about Brexit.
What does everyone else think?
Donald Trump thinks it’s a great idea, by all accounts. But the decision has provoked a lot of fury among both politicians and the public. Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for example, said that suspending parliament would go down in history “as the day UK democracy died”.
John Bercow, the Commons, speaker, called it a “constitutional outrage”, along with senior Conservative MP and former Chancellor Philip Hammond, while many MPs say it is a “full-frontal assault” on democracy.
The Guardian said that Boris’ behaviour is “an act of wanton constitutional vandalism”, and that he is “exhibiting the irresponsible arrogance of which he has long been known capable” while “also operating within the technical parameters of what the British political system allows in all its archaic peculiarity.” Basically, a lot of people have been pointing out that we have an unwritten constitution – we don’t have one formal document setting out how government is run, but rather many acts of parliament – which is unusual and means stuff like this can happen. Polly Toynbee, a political commentator, said a “civil war state of mind now threatens our democracy”.
Depending on your politics bubble, you might see a lot of people tweeting #StopTheCoup as a result. However, very generally speaking, those who are pro-Brexit are supporting Boris’ decision – for instance The Sun claim that the PM is merely “defending democracy from the Remoaners” in a prickly editorial that clawed at the left and accused pro-EU MPs of plotting their own coup “in which Boris is replaced by a stooge PM and a Remainer Government literally no one voted for”. (Interesting to remember “literally no one” voted for Boris while reading this.) “These charlatans will lie, cheat and scream blue murder to reverse Brexit,” The Sun said, hysterically.
Charlatans, presumably, like Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that “Suspending Parliament is not acceptable. What the prime minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal.” He said previously, “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.”
The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said, “Make no mistake, this is a very British coup.”
So it is about Brexit?
Well. Despite Boris’ alleged reasoning, suspending Parliament has the biggest effect on how we deal with the 31st October deadline for us to leave the EU. It dramatically reduces the time MPs have to attempt to stop a No Deal Brexit. Many people think that Johnson’s decision to make himself unavailable to elected representatives of the public for five weeks is acting in a way to silence the public – despite the decision to leave the EU being placed in their hands back in 2016.
No wonder people are protesting.
Exactly. Peaceful protests began last night outside Number 10 and across the country. The public are decrying Boris’ decision because, as The Guardian journalist Owen Jones explained, it’s not right for an unelected Prime Minister to shut down the elected government (after all, the leadership battle between Boris and Jeremy Hunt, back in July, came down to the votes of just 160,000 Conservative Party members – Boris won 66.4% of that vote but it never went to the people).
Last night, people gathered in London, Manchester and Bristol among other cities, shouting “Stop the Coup”, a sentiment that has been echoed in today’s newspaper headlines.
Not only is it a grave example of how power can be abused (so says Shami Chakrabati) but some believe it sets a dangerous precedent – that “shut-downs” and silencing of elected representatives can take place just because one man says so. It severely undermines the democratic process. And governance must flow from the public – which is why lots of people are so angry.
A swift YouGov poll found that 47 per cent of the public said Johnson’s move was unacceptable, and just 27 per cent approved it. At the time of writing, 1.3 million people have signed a petition to stop the proroguing of parliament.
What about the MPs?
Many are protesting; Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives has quit, citing the conflict she has felt over Brexit. George Young – the former leader of the House of Commons who was a cabinet minister with David Cameron – also quit this morning. Lord Young said that Boris’ actions “risk undermining the role of parliament”.
Some people are saying Boris puts the “rogue” in “prorogue”. That’s clever isn’t it?
So cute, yes. But let’s remember how Boris has managed to get away with so much in the past, by positioning himself as a loveable rogue, a bit of an oddball, a simple weirdo. He’s not just the scruffy dude with the bikes now, performing a persona – he’s powerful, and it’s important that he is properly held accountable for the uses (and abuses) of his power, especially at times like this. Calling him a bit of a rogue undermines that.
What about calling him a “tin-pot dictator”?
If the shoe fits…
Can anything be done legally to stop him? Couldn’t the Queen have blocked it?
Yes, technically. She has the power to do so but she is supposed to be apolitical, meaning she can’t really take sides or have a say, and so it was always very, very unlikely that she would say no.
Where’s Gina Miller when you need her?
She’s right here! The woman who legally challenged how Article 50 would be invoked (and won) has already instructed her lawyers to make an urgent application to the high court for a judicial review of Johnson’s suspension. Miller said that “this is a brazen attempt, of truly historical magnitude, to prevent the executive being held accountable for its conduct before parliament.”
What happens next, then?
Parliament is still currently in recess and will return on 3rd September. At that point, Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the opposition, could call for a vote of no confidence in an attempt to oust Boris. If he is successful, he’ll then have 14 days to put together an alternative majority government. His so-called “caretaker government” would then ask for an extension to Article 50 from the EU, before calling a general election. MPs could also attach amendments to the Queen’s speech in an attempt to block No Deal. Some say that MPs must now choose between “loyalty to democracy or to Boris Johnson”.
Alternatively, MPs could attempt to force Boris into extending Article 50 by pushing legislation through if he doesn’t get a new Brexit deal. Ultimately this could end in a “people vs parliament” general election.
If Boris is unchallenged on his latest decision, a new session of parliament will begin on 14th October, and he will try to confirm a renegotiated Brexit deal with the European council on 17th October. That might work – in which case MPs would have to vote on the deal one week before we leave the EU and if they don’t approve it, we crash out on default with No Deal – and the same goes for if Boris can’t confirm a renegotiated deal in the first place.
So… we’re fucked?
Yeah… pretty much.