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Boris Johnson asks Queen to suspend Parliament

Media captionBoris Johnson: “We’re not going to wait until October 31st”

The government has asked the Queen to suspend Parliament just days after MPs return to work in September – and only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline.

Boris Johnson said a Queen’s Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his “very exciting agenda”.

But it means the time MPs have to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October would be cut.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a “constitutional outrage”.

The speaker, who does not traditionally comment on political announcements, continued: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”

It would be “an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives”, he added.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “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”.

He added: “This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”

The PM, though, said suggestions the suspension was motivated by a desire to force through a no deal were “completely untrue”.

He said he did not want to wait until after Brexit “before getting on with our plans to take this country forward”, and insisted there would still be “ample time” for MPs to debate the UK’s departure.

“We need new legislation. We’ve got to be bringing forward new and important bills and that’s why we are going to have a Queen’s Speech,” he added.

Legal challenges and precedent

Shutting down Parliament – known as prorogation – happens after the prime minister advises the Queen to do it.

The decision to do it now is highly controversial because opponents say it would stop MPs being able to play their full democratic part in the Brexit process.

A number of high profile figures, including former Prime Minister John Major, have threatened to go to the courts to stop it, and a legal challenge led by the SNP’s justice spokeswoman, Joanna Cherry, is already working its way through the Scottish courts.

BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond said it was established precedent to prorogue Parliament before a Queen’s Speech, albeit generally more briefly, and rarely, if ever, at such a constitutionally charged time.

He said it was “Her Majesty’s Government” in name only and it was her role, constitutionally, to take the advice of her ministers, so she would prorogue Parliament if asked to.

While it is not possible to mount a legal challenge to the Queen’s exercise of her personal prerogative powers, BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said a judicial review could be launched into the advice given to her by the prime minister – to determine whether that advice was lawful.

This has been an extraordinarily long Parliamentary session, and governments have the right to shut up shop and return to announce their proposals in a new one, with all the golden carriages, fancy Westminster costumes, banging of doors and splendour that goes with it.

But that new timetable means Parliament will be suspended for longer than had been expected – it’s only a matter of days, but those are days that might matter enormously.

Boris Johnson secured his place in No 10 by promising he’d do whatever it takes to leave the EU at Halloween, so this decisive and intensely risky plan will satisfy many of those who backed him.

But some others in his government are worried – moving now, even with the accompanying controversy, he sets the stage and the terms for an epic fight with MPs on all sides.

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The PM says he wants to leave the EU on 31 October with a deal, but it is “do or die” and he is willing to leave without one rather than miss the deadline.

That position has prompted a number of opposition MPs to come together to try to block a possible no deal, and on Tuesday they announced that they intended to use parliamentary process to do so.

Although they remained tight lipped about the exact plan, it was thought Mr Corbyn would call for an emergency debate in the Commons next week, giving MPs a chance to lay down legislation designed to ultimately stop a no-deal exit.

But if Parliament is suspended on 10 September, as is suggested, it will only give opponents a few days next week to push for their changes.

Senior Tory backbencher Dominic Grieve said the move by Mr Johnson could lead to a vote of no confidence – something opposition parties have left on the table as another option to stop no deal – adding: “This government will come down.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said MPs must come together to stop the plan next week, or “today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy”.

Mr Johnson has written to MPs to outline his plan, adding: “There will be a significant Brexit legislative programme to get through but that should be no excuse for a lack of ambition!”

He also called on Parliament to show “unity and resolve” in the run up to the 31 October so the government “stands a chance of securing a new deal” with the EU.

“In the meantime, the government will take the responsible approach of continuing its preparations for leaving the EU, with or without a deal.”

But a senior EU source told the BBC’s Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming: “Whatever happens, the EU was never going to change its position because no deal becomes ‘more credible’ or opponents of ‘no deal’ would get better organised.”

‘Utterly scandalous’

Mr Grieve – a former attorney general – told BBC Radio 5 Live: “If the prime minister persists with this and doesn’t back off, then I think the chances are that his administration will collapse.

“There is plenty of time to do that if necessary [and] I will certainly vote to bring down a Conservative government that persists in a course of action which is so unconstitutional.”

Former Tory chancellor Philip Hammond called it “profoundly undemocratic”.

Media captionNicola Sturgeon says Boris Johnson is acting like a “tin pot dictator”

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, said it was a “dangerous and unacceptable course of action”.

“Shutting down Parliament would be an act of cowardice from Boris Johnson,” she said. “He knows the people would not choose a no deal and that elected representatives wouldn’t allow it. He is trying to stifle their voices.”

And the leader of the SNP in Westminster, Ian Blackford, accused Mr Johnson of “acting like a dictator”.

But Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly defended the plan as what “all new governments do”.

Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips said MPs “only had themselves to blame” for the move.

She told BBC News: “They have made themselves the obstacle in front of delivering the referendum result. Boris Johnson is saying he now needs to remove that obstacle, and quite right too.”

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, welcomed the decision to suspend Parliament and have a Queen’s Speech, but said the terms of her party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives would now be reviewed.

“This will be an opportunity to ensure our priorities align with those of the government,” she added.

Prorogation in a nutshell

Media captionWhat does proroguing Parliament mean?

Parliament is normally suspended – or prorogued – for a short period before a new session begins. It is done by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister.

Parliamentary sessions normally last a year, but the current one has been going on for more than two years – ever since the June 2017 election.

When Parliament is prorogued, no debates and votes are held – and most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death.

This is different to “dissolving” Parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.

The last two times Parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech that was not after a general election the closures lasted for four and 13 working days respectively.

If this prorogation happens as expected, it will see Parliament closed for 23 working days.

MPs have to approve recess dates, but they cannot block prorogation.


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