Johnson plan to suspend UK parliament sparks anger

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly vowed Britain will leave the EU with or without a Brexit deal [Neil Hall/EPA]

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to be held to account by parliament, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday.

Johnson has set in motion a plan that will suspend the House of Commons from sitting until it is too late for opposition leaders to block a “no-deal” withdrawal from the European Union.

It is “an outrage and a threat to our democracy”, said Corbyn, who is understood to be seeking a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II to raise his concerns.

“I am 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. This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”

MPs are due to return to work after their summer holidays next Tuesday, but the parliamentary session will likely be suspended by the end of the week.

On Tuesday, six opposition parties came together to pledge unified legislative action to block a no-deal Brexit, likely by forcing through a new law to delay the Brexit date. Many economists, politicians and experts agree a “no-deal” Brexit would be disastrous for the UK economy.

Johnson has repeatedly vowed that Britain would leave the EU with or without a deal – “do or die” in his words – on October 31.

His plan sets up a clash with parliament, and triggered a furious reaction from parliamentary speaker John Bercow.

“However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country,” Bercow tweeted.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner of the opposition Labour party said it was “a constitutional outrage, plain and simple”.

“Charles 1st did this regularly which caused chaos,” she tweeted. “Now an unelected PM seeking to shut parliament down for his own political gain, this isn’t taking back democracy this is destroying democracy.” 

Charles I was a strong believer in the divine right of kings, and led his troops against the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War. It didn’t go well for him – his reign lasted from 1625 until his execution in 1649.

No-deal Brexit could cause UK food, fuel and medicine shortages

Parliament is normally suspended for a brief period in the autumn, during which political parties hold their main conferences. When they return, a new session is formally opened amid great pomp and ceremony with “the Queen’s speech” announcing the government’s new legislative agenda for the coming year.

But the plan suggested on Wednesday would involve delaying MPs’ return after conference season until October 14, ensuring no parliamentary time could be dedicated to avoiding Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. There is a European Council meeting, dedicated to Brexit, on October 17 and 18.

‘Confrontational’

“Boris Johnson has always threatened he could suspend parliament – he has never ruled it out,” said Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London. “That now looks like exactly what he is going to do.

“It is the most confrontational thing you can imagine he could do in the face of this rebellion.”

Johnson said it was “business as usual” and there was no underhand methodology to prevent elected representatives from putting forward legislation.

“All you should take from this is that we must get on now with our domestic agenda,” he said.

Change UK MP Anna Soubry responded: “That is the very clever spin that is being put on this by Mr Johnson and his unelected advisers. No one should be fooled, this is nothing to do with putting forward an agenda. Our country is in crisis.”

With no time to introduce legislation, options are limited for those looking to stop a no-deal Brexit.

“What they can do, and this looks like it might be back on the table, is a confidence vote in the government,” said Al Jazeera’s Lee.

“To pass, it might have to take 20-30 Conservative MPs to rebel against their own party. Do they have the numbers for passing that? Maybe not.”

Prominent figures on the Conservative benches were quick to express their deep concern about the approach Johnson was taking.

Former chancellor Philip Hammond said: “It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.”

Ex-justice secretary David Gauke said it was a “a dangerous precedent”.

The announcement of the Queen’s speech came after Chancellor Sajid Javid fuelled speculation about an early election by bringing forward the date of a spending round which is expected to include crowd-pleasing funding boosts for schools and hospitals.

The move could be a sign the Conservatives are preparing for an election if MPs across the Commons opposed to Johnson’s Brexit plans bring down the government through a vote of no confidence.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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