Boris Johnson Suspends Parliament To Force Hard Brexit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a step that virtually guarantees that the United Kingdom will go ahead with a hard Brexit at the end of October.

Utilizing some obscure and controversial maneuvering, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has effectively suspended Parliament as part of his effort to push through the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union by the end of October:

Queen Elizabeth II approved a request by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday to shut down Parliament for several weeks ahead of Britain’s upcoming departure from the European Union, a startling maneuver that will rob his opponents of time to thwart a no-deal Brexit.

The announcement of Johnson’s plan prompted expressions of outrage from many lawmakers, who said they are being deprived of their democratic voice on Britain’s most momentous decision in generations. It increased the chances that the country will sail out of the European Union at the end of October with no transition deal to buffer its passage, a move analysts say could cause major economic turmoil, including food and fuel shortages.

Johnson told reporters he had asked the queen, who is on holiday at her Scottish estate of Balmoral, to give her usual annual speech outlining the country’s legislative agenda in mid-October, effectively suspending Parliament between Sept. 11 and Oct. 14. 

The queen acceded to the prime minister’s request, as is customary.

In an official statement, the Privy Council confirmed that the queen had agreed to prorogue — or suspend — Parliament no sooner than Sept. 9 and no later than Sept. 12. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, Natalie Evans, the leader of the House of Lords, and Mark Spencer, the chief whip, were at Balmoral to deliver the request.

Absent a delay, Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31.

Johnson denied claims that Brexit is the reason he sought the new timetable, telling reporters he wants a new session of Parliament so he can lay out the government’s “very exciting agenda.”

He added that there would be “ample time” for lawmakers to debate Brexit.

The move to prorogue Parliament at this crucial time in the Brexit process angered even some lawmakers in the governing Conservative Party. 

A petition launched on the British Parliament website calling for the government not to suspend the body quickly exceeded 100,000 signatures, the number needed for it to be considered for a parliamentary debate. The latest tally was 470,000, and it was rocketing skyward, although any such debate would not lead to legislative action.

Proroguing Parliament is not unheard of — it happens most years. But the five-week gap this time is unusually long. In 2017, Parliament was prorogued for six days; in 2016, for five days; in 2015, for three days. Moreover, doing it in the weeks ahead of Brexit dramatically shortens the timetable for lawmakers to pass any other kind of legislation, such as a law that could prevent a no-deal Brexit.

A “constitutional outrage,” said John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, in a statement. “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.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed to fight Johnson’s move. 
Opposition leaders had talked about forcing a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government sometime before late October. Wednesday’s maneuver, if successful, would drastically narrow their window to next week. But it is unclear whether they have the votes either to install a new government or force a new election.

“Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of his plans for a reckless No Deal Brexit is an outrage and a threat to our democracy,” Corbyn wrote on Twitter. “Labour will work across Parliament to hold the government to account and prevent a disastrous No Deal.”

Proroguing Parliament is not an unusual occurrence, although the manner in which Johnson is utilizing the procedure is unusual:

Though Johnson’s use of proroguing is unusual, the suspension of Parliament is a regular occurrence in British politics. It is normally done once a year, often between a yearly session in late April or early May. It is different from the dissolution of Parliament, which is done before a general election.

If Parliament is prorogued, members keep their seats and continue to do work in their constituencies, with only their Parliamentary work suspended. The move brings to a close all parliamentary business that is being worked on — such as bills and motions — though some can be carried on to the next session.

There is customarily a suspension of Parliament in Britain for three weeks in September during which time political parties hold conferences. Johnson’s proposal would extend that period to more than one month.

Notably, Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May did not prorogue Parliament in 2018 as she said her government needed more time to work on Brexit laws

Johnson’s move means that Parliament will be suspended, and unable to act on any Brexit-related matters, from mid-September until roughly mid-October. With the Brexit deadline coming up on October 31st, this would mean there would effectively be almost no time for Johnson’s foes to take any action that could possibly stop the United Kingdom from crashing through the October 31st Brexit deadline with no deal in place, thus diving the United States the hard Brexit he’s been promising for some time now.

Not surprisingly, Johnson’s move is accompanied by widespread criticism from political opponents such as the Labour Party as well as by some segments of the Conservative Party. In a somewhat unusual move for someone in his position, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow spoke out against the move before it was made official, calling it a “constitutional outrage.” Realistically speaking, though, there’s really nothing that can be done to stop it now that Johnson has received Royal Assent for the move, something that was never in doubt since it is customary for the Monarch to grant such requests from the government regardless of her own views on the subject. There had been some talk prior to today of Queen Elizabeth II declining to grant Johnson’s request, but that would have been an even more unusual event and would have set up the kind of constitutional crisis that the United Kingdom’s political structure isn’t really prepared to deal with.

In any case, this moves all but guarantees that the United Kingdom will see a hard Brexit on October 31st, What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

FILED UNDER: Brexit, United Kingdom,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    Doug, you’re gonna wanna double check this phrase:

    thus diving the United States the hard Brexit he’s been promising for some time now.

  2. Kathy says:

    Proof the British Royal Family are little more than the world’s most expensive rubber stamp, tabloid fodder, and perhaps a tourist attraction.

    If there is no deal to be reached that parliament can approve after three years of trying, then there should be a referendum now between Remain and No Deal. I doubt No Deal was the preference even of most who voted “Leave” last time.

    I won’t ask whether parliament can defy Boris. They won’t. Large, diverse groups rarely act in defiance of authority, however much authority may be abused. but what intrepid MPs can and should do, is beg the people in Brussels to grant an extension for Brexit until at least January 31st 2021. Let Britain have an election, and everyone get past the holidays first.

    Of course that may not work either.

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  3. Jen says:

    It’s just so weird to see a country repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    This is a serious question: Is Johnson deliberately trying to damage the U.K.? And, if so, why?

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    Lacking any press discussion of what’s really behind this stuff I would assume there are wealthy asshat Brits desperate to set the place up as a tax haven, damn the effect in the rest of the country. Sort of like the Koch Bros are is eager to destroy the world to preserve their revenue.

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  6. EddieInCA says:

    How did the markets not react negatively to this news? Can one of the smart people around here explain to me why the markets wouldn’t freak out about this? Is a hard Brexit already baked in? Do traders not believe it’s going to happen? I do not understand.

  7. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I hope I can keep this straight:

    I think BoJo thinks he’s bluffing, so he has to make the EU think he thinks a No Deal Brexit would be better for Great Britain, so they’ll give in and do what he wants.

    The question is whether he’s really doing a high brinkmanship bluff, or only thinks he is.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    Proof the British Royal Family are little more than the world’s most expensive rubber stamp, tabloid fodder, and perhaps a tourist attraction.

    On the subject of tourism… do I want to travel to London around Halloween to point and laugh and feel smug? How often do you get to see a country screw themselves that badly, and not be forced to live through it? There’s a chance that getting back will be a disaster, but that’s part of the fun.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    You could easily get some French boats together and effect an evacuation to Europe.

  10. Lounsbury says:

    @EddieInCA: Mate, take a look at the Pound Sterling charted today against Euro and Dollar. Your question is bizarre.

    I am quite happy myself that I manage EUR denominated assets and am paid in EUR.

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  11. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: MPs can not do any such thing re Brussels. It is not the mechanism nor can there be a unilateral extension.

    There are mechanisms re Parliament, although unless Corbyn pulls himself out – which he won’t sadly – none that will work.

    It’s all a rather astounding bit of grotesque multi-sided political incompetence bound together by the obsessive Empire pining of the old Etonian English exploiting the pain of the North.

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, when the Bush tax cuts were set to expire, there were many Republicans who blustered and threatened and demanded all sorts of deals to prevent that, and none of those deals were, in fact, more favorable to Obama or Democrats than just letting the tax cuts expire. At the time, I wondered if all these fancy, high-level politicians had never heard of BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement), which is the foundation of all negotiations. And I wonder about that with respect to Boris Johnson, and the Leavers, too.

    There is literally nothing – no deal whatsoever that the EU would prefer to a hard Brexit that entails a lot of suffering and chaos in the UK – because they don’t want to encourage people to try that. They don’t want a revolving door, therefore, no agreement.

    Somehow, the Leavers just don’t get this. They think, correctly, that having the UK Leave will have a negative impact on the rest of the EU, therefore, they have leverage. But I think that they have badly misread the bargaining position of the EU, or maybe Boris Johnson hasn’t done that, he just thinks this is a great way to become PM, and he doesn’t really care about whether it’s good for the UK or not. I’m leaning toward the former, self-delusion is pretty common.

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  13. Kathy says:

    @Lounsbury:

    MPs can not do any such thing re Brussels. It is not the mechanism nor can there be a unilateral extension.

    I’m not surprised to hear this. But if Brussels offers an extension, how does Boris keep insisting on “no deal”?

    As I understand it, the EU doesn’t want to renegotiate the deal they negotiated with May, while Boris says that 1) that deal is so bad that “no deal” would be a million times better, and 2) channeling his inner Trump, claims he can negotiate a much better deal anyway, and do so in time to meet the Halloween deadline.

    The EU should refuse to negotiate at all, until they receive assurances there will be ample time for parliament to consider a deal, or the prospect of no deal. But that might be seen as meddling in Britain’s internal affairs.

  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Lounsbury: My peek at Euro vs pound shows the pound ticking up a bit today, after a rough couple of days, but not much movement. I read exactly one piece about it (PoundSterlingLive.com) that said the move was seen as increasing the likelihood of a Brexit deal, and thus the pound ticks up. I think this means that traders think that Parliament would get in the way of negotiations, and that Boris is, in fact, a beast who can Get It Done.

    Well, he’s got his shot, so we don’t have to forever ask, “what if?”

  15. SenyorDave says:

    @Kathy: Johnson is not a good faith partner to negotiate with. IMO the EU should do nothing, call his bluff. We know what he wants – same trade deals and the ability to keep out foreigners of choice.

  16. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    Unfortunately, there’s a legal “gotcha”: Article 50 requires that the “…European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
    Unless the UK govt. asks the Council cannot grant an extension.

    On the role of the Monarch: a Queen’s Speech prorogation is standard; I would guess there have been blazing rows in the Privy Council, but the judgement of the Household from legal precedent would be that a variation in the time period is both within the bound of prerogative, and within the right of the Prime Minister to request, therefore it could not be legitimately refused, even if it was quite obviously a legalistic device on Johnson’s part.

    The trouble is that the modern conventions of the constitution constrain the Monarch enormously w.r.t. Executive and Parliament; unless it is blatantly illegal or transgressive the Crown is, and must be, passive.
    The UK constitution has relied upon the key powers “playing the game”, being “gentlemen”; and that even when they’re obviously not, the Monarch must still treat them as if they are.

    This is of a piece with the central and appalling truth of this government: the Cabinet, which should be the centre of decision making, has been relegated to a secondary part behind the “government by SpAd” of Dominic Cummings.
    (SpAd = Special Adviser: a “temporary civil servant” i.e. a political appointee whose loyalties are to the Party not the State)
    Instead of being aides to the Ministers, the Spads are in Cummings’ system their minders and the channels for No.10 and the Party to transmit instructions to the departmental civil servants.

    I would be willing to be this prorogation tactic is primarily the brainchild of Cummings.
    Though Johnson may hold the ultimate executive power, it has become plain that Cummings as senior adviser is in practice Chief of Staff and probably the primary decision maker for both govt. and Party; though funnily enough he’s not a Conservative Party member.

    He’s a clever individual, who may not be quite as clever as he thinks he is.

    IMHO he’s following a multiple-path contingency tree that he sees as allowing flexible multiple options re. pressuring Parlt., goading domestic enemies, solidifying Leaver vote, open options of new deal/disguised deal/no deal.

    He thinks he’s a Machiavelli/Sun Tsu/Silicon Valley type visionary; rather like a lot of annoying executives with a copy of the Art of War on their desks.

    “Get inside their OODA loop” indeed.

    “He’s not Otto von Bismarck, he’s just a very naughty boy.”

  17. Kathy says:

    @SenyorDave:

    They should definitely call his bluff. Except a no dela Brexit also won’t be good for the EU. They have to consider that.

    I’m not sure Boris is negotiating in bad faith. I mean, he looks more like someone who’s negotiating with a hostile power rather than friendly neighbors.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Same reason conservatives do similar types of things here: they either don’t believe what they are doing is harmful or will come out ahead personally and don’t care who gets hurt. In BoJo’s case, my guess is both.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “How often do you get to see a country screw themselves that badly, and not be forced to live through it?”

    I’m not sure why you think this will be pain free outside of the UK. I’m not an international economy expert, but it seems reasonable to expect international markets will react badly to this news when it happens.

  20. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:

    I won’t ask whether parliament can defy Boris. They won’t.

    I think you are mistaken here; though Johnson and Cummings have likely been considering this for some time, I suspect the trigger may have been Tuesdays Church House Declaration of ant-Brexit MPs, and Corbyn’s announcement that Labour would cooperate with others against No Deal without insisting on Labour terms.

    (I must admit I’ve scorned Corbyn in the past for his Brexit tactics, but he has now stepped up; I suspect John McDonnell has at last got through on this.)

    If the anti-No Deal coalition can hold it’s nerve and act decisively as soon as Parliament reconvenes on 3 September, they may yet prevail.
    Johnson’s actions may in fact backfire if they help solidify wavering potential Conservative rebels to act, and drive away possible “Labour Leavers”.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: While a no-deal Brexit may not be good for the EU, it may be the least bad choice available. All things being considered, it may be the only choice available considering that the rules of the game seem to indicate that if the UK government won’t ask for an extension (and won’t really negotiate an different settlement than what’s been on the table and rejected anyway) no extension can be offered (or would make sense to offer).

  22. JohnSF says:

    Lest my posts above give the impression I am complacent about what has happened today, I am not.

    I am both saddened and angry.

    Three other people sum up my feeling better than I can at this time.

    Tom Peck on Johnson:

    “There was no darkest hour waiting for him, so he switched off the lights himself”

    David Allen Green:

    This stuff matters because the constitution provides the framework for dealing with fundamental political disputes.
    This sort of constitutional cheating and abuse does more damage than any narrow advantage gained.
    Something bad happened today.
    It will have bad consequences.

    TheColumnist@SimeOnStylites:

    Did it ever occur to you
    That in all your winning
    You tore and you ripped
    Into shreds and tatters
    Everything you wanted
    So when finally you won
    There was nothing left
    That was worth winning

    And did you ever
    Think of the cost?
    Of your cleverness
    Your scheming
    Was it worth it?
    Did it make life better?
    Or make it worse
    And if the latter
    What value in it?
    Other than to say
    I won, I won, I won
    When in truth we lost

    And did you ever think
    I said this and I said that
    Even when it was all lies
    Because the truth matters
    Hardly anything at all
    When it’s about the end
    And how we get there
    You really don’t care

    God help us all.

  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Lounsbury says:
    Wednesday, August 28, 2019 at 18:00

    @EddieInCA: Mate, take a look at the Pound Sterling charted today against Euro and Dollar. Your question is bizarre.

    Enlighten me. I see the pound ticked up today. It’s at 1.22. A week ago it was at 1.22. Three days ago it was a 1.22. So enlighten me. Hard Brexit will cause chaos, but the traders didn’t react to this news that seems to portend a hard Brexit. So tell me why my question is bizarre.

  24. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Unfortunately, there’s a legal “gotcha”: Article 50 requires that the “…European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
    Unless the UK govt. asks the Council cannot grant an extension.

    Ok. But the EU can offer one, and let the media know they’ve offered an extension, and let Boris turn it down and own no deal Brexit all by his lonesome.

    as to the Queen, she seems to be more the subject of the PM in an old style absolutist monarchy. As much as I favor liberal democracy, the role of rubber stamp is neither. What I wonder is why the British bother to keep the monarchy when it doesn’t seem to have much use.

    Oh, figureheads can be good in diplomacy, to an extent. But surely the number of countries that manage diplomacy just fine without a royal family, prove such role rather pointless or redundant.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: You’ve got a point. Look at what the Libertarians and Tea Party types did to Kansas. And, this is the kicker, with no acknowledgement whatsoever that their harebrained schemes had anything to do with said disaster.

  26. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “They should definitely call his bluff. Except a no dela Brexit also won’t be good for the EU. They have to consider that.”

    At this point, the EU leadership might have actually learned from three years of negotiation and creeping UK insanity.

    Every single thing I’ve seen points to the idea that enough Tories want a No Deal that they can bring down the government if they don’t get it. At that point the EU leadership might have stopped expecting any other outcome.

  27. Lounsbury says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Sterling is down to USD 1.22, it had bounced back up, dead cat bounce. March Sterling was USD 1.32. Similar for EUR, 1.10 from March 1.18 odd.

    Sterling is not up, it’s slowly bleeding out.

    Brussels, all the capitals have the same expectation from Bojo. Barring fall of government, it’s crashout. Other fantasies as above are just that, fantasies.

    Insofar as the idiots that make up Labour Party membership are stuck with the Marxist retrograde dreaming that is Corbyn, there’s no other path. Unless Corbyn contra his entire political history shows some savoir faire and recognizes his dream of revolution is nonsense, and withdraws in favour of a consensus unity government leader, notably a centrist Tory rebel or perhaps a LibDem, UK is about to lop off its hand to teach dirty Johnny Foreigner a lesson.

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  28. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:

    But the EU can offer one, and let the media know they’ve offered an extension

    This might be legal, or least arguable.

    But there are signs that Macron at least views extensions as pointless unless the UK political equation alters.

    More, it would be treated by the Brexiteer messaging machines (there are several, who are allies only of periodic convenience) as indicating EU fear of No Deal; this was their response to the German and French preparedness to talk to Johnson about things on his recent visits.

    The EU stance on this will probably be “don’t feed the troll”.

  29. Jen says:

    Our upcoming trip should be interesting. We’ll be there just a short time before the deadline.

    I feel really badly for our friends over in the UK, all of whom voted remain. My guess is that some things won’t be quite as bad as anticipated, but there will be other things no one even thought of that will have a huge and negative impact on the British economy. Ireland and Scotland will be the ones to watch. What an enormous mess.

  30. dmichael says:

    A few points: Boris will do whatever is possible, even if constitutional suspect, to get Brexit by October 31. The leavers want Brexit by that date, regardless of the consequences. When the disastrous effects occur, Boris and the Leavers will blame others. See, e.g., Trump, Donald J.

  31. Joe says:

    Much as I worry about the economic impact of naked Brexit, I have to believe the market – exchange rates included – now assumes crash out and is already pricing for it.

  32. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that the EU realises that a) even if they were to get rid of the backstop from the WA, it still wouldn’t get through Parliament, b) too many of the right-wing now have the bit between their teeth and won’t accept anything but no-deal, and c) there is still no consensus on the part of the U.K. as to what they want, so it’s a dead waste of time for the EU to propose anything.

    So no, I don’t think they’re going to come back with anything. The more time goes on, the more fed-up the Europeans are with the Brits and the less willing they are to provide them with any slack. So I suspect there will be a splendid crash-out and a systematic application of the non-EU rules to any EU-UK commerce. They know that no matter what happens, the UK Tory newspapers and politicians are going to blame the EU for any negative effects.

    The UK is as present acting like a whiny entitled toddler and I dearly wish I could slap them and send them off to bed.