Post Incident Report (August 2019)
At approximately 08:45 BST on 28 August 2019, senior members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom travelled to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire to meet with Her Majesty The Queen. Headed by Leader of the Commons, hard-line Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, the council formally requested the approval of a plan for prorogation of British parliament. Following this, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, conducted a conference call with Cabinet members informing them of the move. Prorogation is a formal mechanism dating back centuries and signals the end of a parliamentary session. The current session has been the longest in parliamentary history for nearly 400 years, having begun on 21 June 2017.Prorogation of parliament usually occurs every autumn and typically lasts around a week, however the recess proposed by Johnson is set to last five weeks, from 11 September to 14 October 2019.
In a letter penned by the Prime Minister, he states that the planned prorogation would enable him to bring forward “a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of [our] country after Brexit.” Although the prorogation period appears to be significantly longer than in previous years, the move will only officially remove four days of the parliamentary timetable owing to a three-week period already in recess for party conferences. The response from Members of Parliament (MPs) regarding the prorogation of parliament, across all parties, has been mixed. Whilst senior members of the Conservative party have welcomed the move, many have voiced their concerns on what they believe is seeking to bypass opposition attempts to block a no-deal Brexit before the deadline on 31 October. Conservative politician and former chancellor, Philip Hammond has labelled the suspension of parliament as “profoundly undemocratic.” Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also criticised the move stating it was “a smash and grab on democracy.” Despite this, in a televised interview Johnson stipulated that there would be ample time in parliament for MPs to debate Brexit prior to, and following, the EU summit planned for 17- 18 October.
The announcement to end the current session in parliament comes only a day after opposition politicians agreed to unify in an attempt to block the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place. By undertaking this action so close to the imposed 31 October deadline, MPs are left with a narrow window in which to bring in legislation to block a no-deal Brexit. The introduction of such legislation would need to be debated and voted on, something which would be made difficult due to the prorogation of parliament. With the ending of a parliamentary session, any Bills not obtaining royal assent effectively collapse and thus must be re-introduced in the next session, unless a carry-over motion has been passed.
Although the proroguing of parliament is provided for in both law and convention, the timing of such a suspension has proved controversial. With less than nine weeks until the UK must leave the EU, time is running out for parliament to reach a deal. Earlier in the week, Corbyn and other opposition leaders from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Independent Group for Change met for an hour-long meeting. There was a suggestion that the MPs would use legislative methods as opposed to an immediate no-confidence vote in order to stop a no-deal Brexit. However, following the Prime Minister’s announcement, the prospect of a no-confidence vote appears more likely. Tory rebel Dominic Grieve, who has previously professed his opposition to a no-deal exit from the EU, has said he plans on consulting with like-minded MPs prior to parliament’s return next week following its summer recess. Any vote of no-confidence is, however, now time-limited and would need to be set in motion and passed before 10 September; leading to a general election in October.
A no-deal Brexit would force the UK to leave the EU without a deal in place, the UK would leave the single market and customs union with immediate effect, along with EU institutions such as European Court of Justice and Europol, its law enforcement body. Leaving without an agreement in place would also mean the UK would no longer contribute an annual £9 billion to the EU budget. Under the previous deal put forward by former Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK would have entered into a 21-month transition period, this motion was voted down three times in parliament.
A petition has been launched by a cross-party group of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords to suspend the prorogation of parliament. MPs are not permitted to vote on a suspension of parliament, however there has been a substantial amount of backlash against what some have labelled a constitutional outrage. A legal hearing on whether the prime minister was legally permitted to suspend parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit was due to be held on 6 September, however petitioners have now raised an interim interdict to overturn the suspension. SNP MP Joanna Cherry has consulted with a legal team in an attempt to speed up the planned action in the Scottish courts. If the Court of Sessions rules that the decision to prorogue parliament breaks the law the UK would be in unprecedented territory and it is unclear how parliament would proceed in such a case.
Elsewhere, thousands of members of the public took to the streets on Wednesday evening to demonstrate against the move, while over 1,000,000 people have signed the petition against the move to suspend parliament for five weeks. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is expected to make a statement in due course announcing her resignation from the party, following reported ‘irreconcilable differences’ with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with personal reasons. This will undoubtedly be a blow for Johnson’s government as Davidson has repeatedly been hailed as the saviour of the Sottish Conservative Party. Fellow Tory MP Sam Gyimah has stated that he believes the move is reckless and he is willing to work on a cross-party basis in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow has backed criticism of the proroguing of parliament, claiming it is an “offence against the democratic process.” With widespread criticism from opposition leaders and members of his own party, Johnson is increasingly facing the possibility of a vote of no-confidence in the coming weeks.
In his published letter, Johnson suggests that if a deal is forthcoming at the EU meeting on 17-18 October, there will need to be a Withdrawal Agreement Bill introduced to allow this to be put into place before the 31 October deadline. The Prime Minister suggests that if a suitable deal is discussed at the EU summit then it could be voted on as soon as 21-22 October. However, this leaves a very short time frame in which to debate and ratify any Bill, especially one that is likely to prove so divisive. Following the Queen’s Speech, and thus re-commencing of parliament on 14 October, the government’s agenda will be set out before the House of Commons and House of Lords. This is likely to centre around the imminent subject of Brexit and the possibility of drawing up a possible agreement prior to the EU summit days later. The outcome of such debate will remain to be seen following the prorogation of parliament, if it indeed goes ahead successfully. Johnson faces mounting criticism from not only the opposition leaders and general public, but also members of his own party who have openly embraced the idea of a cross-party alliance if it prevents a no-deal exit from the EU.
In the immediate term, there are a series of protests planned across the UK, seeking to reverse the prorogation and ensure Parliament remains in session in the lead up to the planned 31 October Brexit deadline. Members of Parliament have until 10 September to push through a vote of no-confidence in Boris Johnson’s government. This would lead to a general election sometime in October. Given the febrile state of British politics, the results of any election are unlikely to return a decisive result. The Conservative party currently hold a lead in opinion polls following Boris Johnson’s installation as Prime Minister. The main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, are behind with 21 per cent of public favour. However, there are number of smaller parties seeking to coalesce around a shared goal of halting a no-deal Brexit; any such combined assault would have to combat a Conservative party empowered by incumbency along with a body of MPs who are seeking to push through with Brexit on 31 October by any means possible.
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