GP Insights

GP Insights # 137, 31 August 2019

UK: Boris Johnson suspends the Parliament; so, no-deal Brexit it is
Sourina Bej

What happened? 

Boris Johnson announced on 28 August the suspension of the Parliament. Hailed as a political gamble this suspension could allow a "no-deal" Brexit to be forced through — or preempt a vote of no confidence in the government. The Queen formally agreed to Boris Johnson's request to end the current parliamentary session and made the announcement. 


What is the background? 

The move to "prorogue" or suspend the Parliament will now prevent current lawmakers from making any laws that would hinder or delay the Brexit (as scheduled on 31 October) from the European Union (EU).

Boris Johnson's request to the Queen (who holds the right) to suspend the Parliament follows the controversy over Ireland being a hard or soft border between EU and UK. This step by Johnson tightens the parliamentary timeframe and has made the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union on 31 October without a deal in place far more likely. 

The prorogation means that the Parliament will be prevented from sitting during the crucial period between now and the Brexit deadline of 31 October. The debate over whether Britain should follow a no-deal or not while exiting has been at the upfront between the conservatives and the labour party. Former Prime Minister Theresa May has faced main party resignations and vote of no confidence over the terms of the Brexit deal, especially from the Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn. Thus Johnson's rationale of suspending the Parliament and engaging in constituting a new one with a new agenda is to avoid walking down the path of his predecessor May. 


What does it mean? 

At this juncture, the suspension of the Parliament is going to have multiple impacts. 

Firstly, those who are opposed to the no-deal Brexit had two primary routes to oppose the no-deal: to enact legislation requiring the government to seek a further deferral of the Brexit date or a vote of no-confidence in the government and calling for an early general election. However, both would be extremely difficult to achieve within the tight parliamentary timeframes. 

Secondly, Johnson's act cannot be challenged in the court as unconstitutional because the Parliament has not been prorogued for an entire two years. Usually, a parliamentary session lasts for around a year. However, the current session began in 2017 and was extended to give time to the complex Brexit legislation. The current lawmakers have been on their summer break since 25 July, just one day after Johnson became Prime Minister due to return on 3 September. This session would have been for two weeks until 14 September. These two weeks were crucial to legislate against a "no-deal" Brexit. However, prorogation means lawmakers will only sit until 9 September thus moving up the Brexit endgame. The fact that Johnson gave prorogation advice to the Queen before a court could decide on whether to issue an order to prevent the giving of such advice also potentially stymied the use of courts to prevent prorogation. Moreover, the Queen's diktat is unchallenged. 

Thirdly, it also unknown if the House of Commons can block Johnson if he is intent on a no-deal Brexit, whether or not calling the Parliament in session again is possible. The members would need to create a circumstance for a binding vote, and it is unclear how this might be done. 

Finally, the immediate impact of Johnson's declaration has been the resignation of the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stating conflict over her dealings with Boris. The question on Ireland remains in doldrums as it would involve checks of some form, whatever the UK government's insistence that it will not impose any infrastructure. As the Irish government has pointed out repeatedly, Ireland cannot remain a part of the EU's single market and allow the unmonitored flow of goods across what will then become a customs, standards and regulation border. While there is an understandable desire to avoid infrastructure on the frontier, some new system of checks might now come into place.

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