Home / FINANCE / Prorogation: How can the government suspend Parliament?

Prorogation: How can the government suspend Parliament?

Big Ben and a no entry sign

Image copyright
Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked the Queen to suspend Parliament from 10 September – days after MPs return to work.

It means MPs are unlikely to have time to pass laws that could stop the UK leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal on 31 October.

That exit date is written into law, so if nothing changes the UK will leave automatically – whether or not a deal has been reached.

Can the prime minister close Parliament?

Yes, he can.

The official term for shutting down Parliament is “proroguing”.

MPs do not vote to prorogue – it’s a power that rests with the Queen, done on the advice of the prime minister.

So it is within Mr Johnson’s gift to ask the Queen to shut Parliament, dramatically reducing the influence of MPs.

With Parliament not sitting, MPs would not be able, for example, to hold a vote of no confidence in the government.

How is Parliament normally closed?

Parliament is normally prorogued once a year for a short period – usually in April or May.

During this time, all business stops, so most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death (although some may be “carried over” to the next session).

MPs keep their seats and ministers remain in position – but no debates and votes are held in Parliament.

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

It’s normal for new governments to shut down Parliament, in order to hold a Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s plans for the next year or so.

The length of time varies – in 2016 Parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days.

This year, Parliament would be suspended for 23 working days before the new Queen’s speech on 14 October.

While prorogation is normal, the timing of it in this case is “clearly hugely controversial”, says Maddy Thimont-Jack at the Institute for Government think tank.

Why would it be controversial?

As well as reducing the influence of the elected Parliament in a major decision, if it was granted it could also make planning for a no-deal Brexit harder.

That’s because the prime minister – without a sitting Parliament – would not be able to pass laws to cushion the impact of no deal. Such laws, for example, might deal with allocating extra money or resources.

In theory, it would also bring the Queen right into the heart of the Brexit dispute. Normally, a prime minister’s request to the Queen to prorogue is extremely straightforward. In fact, the House of Commons Library says it has been a formality in the UK for more than a century.

But in the current climate, the Queen would have to decide to accept or deny the request.

In reality, though, it’s highly unlikely she would deny such a request from a sitting prime minister.

Image copyright
Chris Jackson

Image caption

Closing Parliament would bring the Queen into the centre of the Brexit dispute

Supporters say suspending Parliament would respect the 2016 referendum by guaranteeing the UK leaves the EU on 31 October.

But opponents say it would be undemocratic and undermine MPs – most of whom are against no deal. Tory backbencher Dominic Grieve called the move “an outrageous act”.

According to the Institute for Government think tank, the last time Parliament was closed to get round opposition to government policy was in 1948 – following the Lords’ opposition to the Parliament Bill.

Parliament was expected to take a break or “recess” anyway from roughly 13 September – 8 October, so in theory this only loses MPs up to seven parliamentary days.

MPs have to approve recess dates, though, unlike prorogations which they will not be consulted on.

Could it be stopped?

In July, former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major threatened to use the courts to stop Parliament from being shut down.

He told BBC News: “The Queen’s decision cannot be challenged in law but the prime minister’s advice to the Queen can, I believe, be challenged in law – and I for one would be prepared to seek judicial review to prevent Parliament being bypassed.”

While some believe a legal challenge could work, a source close to Boris Johnson told BBC News the threat of court action was “absurd”.

Prorogation: How can the government suspend Parliament?}

Check Also

General election 2019: Boris Johnson pledges cut to National Insurance

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Boris Johnson says workers will not have to pay National Insurance …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *