Johnson’s Opposition Has Few Options To Stop Suspension Of Parliament And Brexit
Parliament returns for a short period tomorrow, but there's little time for those who hope to stop Boris Johnson's plans to force a hard Brexit.
When the House of Commons reconvenes on Tuesday, the forces aiming to stop Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to suspend Parliament and forcing the United Kingdom into a hard Brexit will be taking one last long shot:
Christopher Gloyne, a retired accountant, has voted exclusively for the Conservative Party for 60 years. But he just tore up his party membership card because he’s furious at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“He is deliberately bypassing 400 years of parliamentary democracy by what he’s doing,” said Gloyne, 78, who stood, wrapped in a blue European Union flag, in a large protest Saturday near the prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.
Johnson, who took over as prime minister in July, drove a spike into a raw nerve in Britain when he announced last week that he intends to suspend Parliament for five weeks, sharply limiting members’ opportunity to debate the terms of Britain’s Oct. 31 Brexit divorce from the European Union.
That maneuver set up a potentially ferocious showdown on Tuesday, when Parliament returns from its summer recess. Jeremy Corbyn, Johnson’s chief rival as leader of the opposition Labour Party, has vowed to fight Johnson in the House of Commons, calling his action a “smash and grab” on democracy.
Brexit has already deeply divided and wounded Britain, but Johnson’s move has provoked a new level of anger, creating one of the most emotional moments in recent British history.
From Scotland to Northern Ireland to England, Britons are accusing each other of assaulting the world’s most storied and emulated democracy, hurling their rage in the starkest of terms.
Johnson has defended the suspension, scheduled to start next week, as legal and benign, a chance for his new government to make a fresh start after taking office just five weeks ago. He said lawmakers would still have plenty of time to debate Brexit.
Suspending Parliament at this time of year is fairly typical. But doing it for so long — and with such a hugely significant political decision looming — is highly unusual. It’s also a major political gamble for Johnson, who has staked his job on a promise of Brexit by Halloween, “do or die.”
Corbyn and others have accused Johnson of trampling democratic norms in an attempt to ram though Brexit, which British voters approved by a narrow margin in a 2016 referendum.
They say Johnson is so determined to deliver Brexit — which his predecessor, Theresa May, was unable to do — that he’s willing to cause lasting damage to a democratic system that has long been a beacon around the world.
“We are mourning. What’s happening is wrong,” said Elizabeth Mahmoud, her eyes filling with tears on Saturday.
At 64, the caterer was attending her first political demonstration. Her young granddaughter held a sign that read, “History is Watching.”
“People look to the British Parliament for fairness, for freedom and for everybody to get a voice,” Mahmoud said. “Please don’t take our voice away.”
The Telegraph reports that Corbyn’s most likely avenue of attack given the limited amount of time would be a vote of no confidence that could potentially trigger a new election and would at the very least mean setting up a constitutional crisis. It’s far from clear, though, that Corbyn has anywhere near the support he would need to win such a vote. In order for that to happen, he would need to get the support of at least some dissident members of the Conservative Party and/or a collapse of the agreement that former Prime Minister Theresa May reached with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which continues to support the Tory government. Absent either of those events happening, the no-confidence vote would fail and the status quo, such as it is, would continue. If it somehow succeeds then either the Brits would get a new government headed by Jeremy Corbyn or, more likely, the United Kingdom would be forced to head to a snap election just before the current Brexit deadline of October 31st.
As things stand, an election at this point would seem to end up being bad news for Johnson and the Conservative Party. I haven’t seen any polling on the issue yet, but based on reporting in the British and American media the overall reaction to Johnson’s suspension of Parliament has been overwhelmingly negative. One indication of that can be seen in the thousands of people who turned out over the weekend for what were called “Stop the coup!” protests in the wake of the suspension. Despite these protests, though, there’s a very good chance that Johnson will be able to get away with what was, in the end, a completely legal maneuver under British law and tradition, The amount of time for the opposition to act, as well as their options, are limited and all the cards appear to be in Johnson’s hands for now. Whether or not that continues after he succeeds in forcing through the hard Brexit he wants at the end of October is another matter.