With only 63 days left for the scheduled exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the Queen has suspended the parliament under the advice of prime minister Boris Johnson. The Queen has been asked to prorogue the upcoming session of the parliament until October 14, under the pretext that the government needs time to prepare the Queen’s address, which sets the agenda for a new session of the parliament.
This takes out over 20 days or 5 weeks of parliament sittings before the Brexit deadline on October 31, severely limiting the time that legislators will have to debate and decide on the matter, to less than a week. This is the longest period of prorogation in the history of the British parliament. In response, the government has received major backlash for what is widely seen as a veritable coup by the Johnson government to thrust a No-Deal Brexit.
The move was widely anticipated, since Saturday, after a leaked document from the prime minister’s office had revealed the government’s intention to prorogue the parliament for weeks together. The Johnson government, consisting of some of the most hardline advocates of Brexit, has been pushing for an exit without a negotiated deal or a ‘no-deal Brexit’. But a No-Deal Brexit does not have much traction within the parliament, with opposition and many government MPs having publicly opposed such an option.
The move today has prompted two high-profile resignations from the ruling Conservative Party, including Ruth Davidson, the party leader in the Scottish Parliament, and also Lord Young of Cookham, one of the party whips in the House of Lords. Several cases have been filed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London, against the prorogation, including a case that is being considered by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
A public petition has been filed in the parliament demanding the government to go back on its decision to prorogue the decision “unless and until the Article 50 period has been sufficiently extended or the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU has been cancelled”. It has already received over 1.4 million signatures and counting, within hours after it was filed.
In the meanwhile, today thousands across the UK have taken to the streets to protest the suspension of the parliament, holding signs and placards that read ‘Stop the Coup’, ‘Stop Boris, Stop Brexit!’, and ‘Bring down Boris!’.
What next for the Opposition?
In the House of Commons, opposition parties, led by the Labour Party, have pushed for an urgent session on the government’s move, and is reportedly working out strategies to countering, including a possible no-confidence motion against the government. The opposition and even several government MPs have been demanding for another extension to the date of exit, so that the parliament has more time to negotiate an acceptable exit deal.
Legislators from opposition parties in the United Kingdom had come together, yesterday, to sign the Church House Declaration, that threatened “widespread resistance” and to stop No-Deal Brexit using “whatever mechanisms possible”. Members of Parliament from different parties in the opposition, most notably from Liberal Democrats, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Change UK and the Green Party, have come together against what they deem to be a threat to the “very nature of British democracy”.
The prolonged Brexit process, has precipitated an extended period of political crisis among the Conservative Party, having prematurely ended the careers of two sitting prime ministers. The major points of contention that the government currently has are the settlement of liabilities that the UK owes and has pledged to the EU as part of the union, and customs backstop that will keep Northern Ireland within the EU Customs Union, effectively preventing a hard border between the UK and Ireland.