Yesterday, new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (CON-ECR) announced that he would seek permission from Queen Elizabeth II, UK Head of State, to prorogue parliament.
This mediaeval power has added yet more confusion to the whirlwind of Brexit news, we’re here to provide a simple summary of what this will mean for Brexit and Europe as a whole in the coming months.
What has happened?
The UK Prime Minister requested that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would end the current parliamentary session, allowing for a new Queen’s speech (the formal mechanism for a government to lay out their legislative agenda). While this may seem like a normal or uninteresting formality, the reality is murkier.
Prorogation would see members of parliament not sit in the House of Commons or House of Lords for a little over a month, from 12 September to the 14 October.
Why has it happened?
Prorogation has been suggested on numerous occasions over recent months as the UK tries to overcome the impasse it has reached over how the United Kingdom should complete the Brexit process. In his campaign for the leadership of his party, former London Mayor Boris Johnson stated that he would ensure the country left the European Union at its current deadline, 31 October, with or without a deal (as discussed in our previous Brexit Q&A).
In order for Johnson to achieve this goal, he needs to either pass a deal, with parliament ratifying the deal in turn, or win any votes in parliament which would prevent the country leaving without a deal with the European Union. Realistically, it does not appear that Johnson’s government has enough backers for either course of action.
Prorogation, then, allows Johnson to minimise the risks of losing the votes and will help to ensure he achieves his policy aims. On top of that, because prorogation is acted upon by the Queen, parliament cannot overrule her, as the power to dissolve parliament is reserved to the British monarch.
What will happen next?
Needless to say, opponents of No Deal and Johnson himself have come out in fits of fury at the new of this plan. They see it as the suspension of democratic debate, simply because the Prime Minister is expecting to lose. Protests took place yesterday evening, and are expected to continue in the coming days.
One key response will be in the judicial system. The UK Parliament covers three legal jurisdictions (England/Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) and it is likely that legal challenges will be brought against the Prime Minister in all three jurisdictions. The challenge in Scotland’s Court of Session is underway, and anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller has said she will be challenging the decision in the High Court.
If prorogue does happen as is currently expected, all opposition MPs and some Conservatives have signed an agreement to sit as a de facto parliament in exile in response. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, has also been deeply critical of prorogation and speculation has mounted as to whether he would also attend.
Does this make No Deal more likely?
Quite simply, the answer is yes.
With less time for debate in a parliament positioned against no deal, cutting parliaments sitting time undoubtedly decreases the likelihood it would do anything to prevent it. However, parliament has already had the best part of three years to prevent a no-deal Brexit and has not. Many commentators ask if parliament would really do whatever it takes to prevent no deal. A vote of no confidence in the government, a government of national unity and perhaps even revocation of Article 50 may be a bridge too far for the fractured representative body.
However, with around a week of legislative time before and after the expected prorogation some parliamentarians have suggested that there might still be time for a legislative block on a no-deal Brexit, or even a deal of some kind if one is agreed at the crunch-time EU leadership summit in mid-October.