Boris Johnson’s shock move to suspend Parliament received the formality of Royal Assent this afternoon as the Prime Minister seeks to limit Opposition MPs’ chances of preventing Brexit on October 31.
But in the aftermath of the carefully choreographed move which saw Jacob Rees-Mogg fly to Balmoral to present the plan to the Queen in person after Her Majesty had a telephone meeting with Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister was accused of being a ‘tin pot dictator’ and committing ‘a constitutional outrage’.
A petition against prorogation looks set to hit a million signatures by midnight, crowds are gathering in Parliament Square waving EU flags and shouting ‘stop the coup’, and a legal challenge is already underway.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond said Parliament would now seek to move anti-no-deal legislation against the Prime Minister next week, although he added he was ‘not interested in bringing down the government’.
The government will prorogue this unusually long, two-year session of Parliament by September 12, which will be followed by a five week break and a Queen Speech on October 14.
The PM insisted the new session was required to bring forward new legislation on the NHS, policing and education and said there would still be ‘plenty of time’ to debate Brexit.
But the timetable leaves Remainers only a maximum of five days to enact the plan they agreed upon yesterday, to seize control of the government order paper and pass legislation to prevent No Deal.
Given the difficulty of achieving that in the time allotted, a vote of no confidence becomes a more likely option but government sources were bullish about their chances of surviving such a vote.
Despite the prorogation only lengthening the planned September break by a few days opponents issued shrieks of outrage.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the PM of a ‘constitutional outrage’, Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was an ‘offence against the democratic process’, union bosses said Mr Johnson was acting in a ‘dictatorial way’ and the EU’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt described the move as ‘sinister’.
Arch-Remain Labour MP Clive Lewis said police would have to remove him from the Chamber, and fellow Remainer Dominic Grieve threatened to vote against his own leader in a vote of no confidence.
Amid the fallout sources said Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, would announce her resignation tomorrow due to pressures of new motherhood and a rift with Johnson’ leadership. A spokesman said the decision was not linked to the suspension of Parliament, according to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell addressed anti-prorogation protestors gathered in Parliament Square tonight
Demonstrators waving EU flags and shouting ‘stop the coup’ brought traffic to a standstill in central London this evening
Anti-Brexit and anti-No Deal demonstrators held up placards reading ‘No to Boris, yes to Europe’ and, left, pictured Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Queen as a ‘pro rogue’s gallery’. Meanwhile Dianne Abbott spoke to crowds waving ‘Defend Democracy’ placards
This evening it emerged anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller has already issued legal proceedings to challenge prorogation.
Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major also said on Wednesday he is seeking advice on the legality of Mr Johnson proroguing Parliament.
Sir John said: ‘I have no doubt that the Prime Minister’s motive in seeking prorogation is to bypass a sovereign Parliament that opposes his policy on Brexit.
‘As events unfold, I will continue to seek advice on the legality of this and other matters, but will be making no further comment for the time being.’
Amid the political firestorm on a dramatic day in Westminster:
- The pound slumped more than one percent versus the dollar and euro amid growing fears on the markets of a No Deal Brexit, but rallied to recover more than half of ts early losses
- A handful of Tory Remainer rebels signalled they could back a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government.
- Commons Speaker John Bercow said the move represented a ‘constitutional outrage’.
- Opposition MPs say they will refuse to leave the Commons if Mr Johnson shuts Parliament’s doors.
- Union bosses accused the PM of behaving in a ‘dictatorial way’ to ‘silence all opposition’.
- More than two dozen Church of England bishops warned in an open letter that a No Deal Brexit would hit the ‘least resilient’ in society.
- Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, said ”taking back control’ has never looked so sinister’.
- Sir Vince Cable, the former Lib Dem leader, announced his intention to step down as an MP at the next election
- The DUP supported the decision to suspend Parliament but said the move would require it to review its ‘confidence and supply’ deal to prop up the Tories.
- Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was due to use a speech in Paris today to urge France to join talks with the UK about how to minimise the disruption from No Deal.
- President Donald Trump threw his support behind Mr Johnson, saying it would now be hard for the PM’s opponents to bring him down in a confidence vote.
- And Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is preparing to announce she will step down
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, flew to Balmoral Castle to present Boris Johnson’s plan to prorogue Parliament to the Queen in person. The monarch approved the plan this afternoon. Mr Rees-Mogg is pictured arriving at Aberdeen Airport on his way back to London.
Mr Johnson outlined his decision to prorogue Parliament in a letter sent to every MP this morning
Mr Johnson outlined his proposal to the monarch in a phone call this morning while Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, flew to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to present it to her in person.
The Prime Minister will suspend Parliament by September 12 at the latest after MPs return to work on Tuesday.
The Queen acts on the advice of her ministers and there was never any question of her blocking it.
Mr Johnson caught his political opponents off-guard and stunned Westminster this morning as he said he will send MPs home for most of September and the start of October to try to stop them thwarting a No Deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson will then hold a Queen’s Speech on October 14 setting out his government’s legislative agenda just two weeks before the UK is due to split from Brussels.
Prorogation will take place at some point in the week beginning September 9 in a move which will dramatically reduce the amount of time available to Europhile MPs who want to pass a new law which would force Mr Johnson to ask the EU to delay Brexit if the UK is on course for a No Deal split on Halloween.
Nonetheless senior Remain-backing MPs yesterday agreed to prioritise the passage of anti-No Deal legislation over a potential vote of no confidence as they try to prevent a bad break from Brussels.
The decision to prorogue Parliament has massively upped the stakes in the battle over Brexit and represents a major gamble for Mr Johnson who is effectively daring his opponents to try to oust him next week and bring about a snap general election.
MPs may now be forced to swing in behind a vote to topple the PM when they return from their summer break next week but Downing Street is bullish about the chances of defeating a vote of no confidence, with officials deeply sceptical about Mr Corbyn’s ability to persuade a majority of MPs to back the move.
Meanwhile, it is thought Mr Johnson could simply choose to ignore a successful vote of no confidence.
Convention dictates that a defeated PM should resign but sources said today that Mr Johnson could refuse to quit, dissolve Parliament and then call an election himself.
Big news: a photograph taken from the street looking through the open door of 11 Downing Street this morning captures Sajid Javid looking taken aback by the day’s tumultuous events
Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab was among senior Tories to convene on Downing Street in the aftermath of the dramatic announcement
In the loop: Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs arrived at Downing Street this afternoon amid reports the decision had been so close-hold even senior Tories did not know. Pictured: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (left) and Boris Johnson’s brother Jo, MP for Orpington, right
What happens now with the Brexit process in Parliament?
Here are the key dates in the countdown to October 31, when the UK is due to leave the European Union with or without a deal.
September 3: MPs return to the House of Commons for first session after summer recess.
September 4: Chancellor Sajid Javid due to make Commons statement on Government spending in 2020/21.
September 9: Parliament likely to begin process for prorogation.
September 10: Parliament likely to be prorogued until October 14.
September 14: Liberal Democrat party conference begins in Bournemouth. Jo Swinson likely to give speech on September 17.
September 21: Labour party conference begins in Brighton. Jeremy Corbyn likely to give speech on September 25.
September 29: Conservative party conference begins in Manchester. Boris Johnson likely to give speech on October 2.
October 14: State Opening of Parliament, including Queen’s Speech.
October 17/18: EU summit in Brussels.
October 21/22: Parliament likely to hold series of votes on Queen’s Speech.
October 31: UK due to leave EU.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly committed to delivering Brexit by October 31 ‘do or die’ and with or without a deal despite vehement opposition to No Deal from many MPs.
But this morning he claimed his call to suspend Parliament in advance of a forthcoming Queen’s Speech was ab out domestic policy insisting the idea that he was suspending Parliament in order to stop MPs thwarting No Deal was ‘completely untrue’.
He told Sky News: ‘As I said on the steps of Downing Street we are not going to wait until October 31 before getting on with our plans to take this country forward and this is a new government with a very exciting agenda to make our streets safer… we need to invest in our fantastic NHS.
‘We need to level up education funding across the country, we need to invest in the infrastructure that is going to take this country forward for decades and we need to deal with the cost of living, moving to a high wage, high productivity economy which is what I think this country needs to be.
‘To do that we need new legislation. We have got to be bringing forward new and important bills and that is why we are going to have a Queen’s Speech and we are going to do it on October 14. We have got to move ahead now with a new legislative programme.’
Mr Johnson said MPs would still have plenty of opportunities to have their say on the UK’s departure from the bloc.
‘There will be ample time both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time, in Parliament for MPs top debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues,’ he said.
The October 17 date refers to a scheduled meeting of the European Council in Brussels – the last one before the Brexit deadline.
That meeting is shaping up to be a make or break moment for Britain and the bloc because it will likely represent the last chance for a new deal to be agreed.
Mr Johnson is in the process of trying to persuade the EU to delete the Irish border backstop from the existing agreement in order to make it more palatable to MPs.
A diagram showing what could happen next after Boris Johnson announced that Parliament would be prorogued from mid-September until a Queen’s Speech in mid-October
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured today) accused the PM of launching a ‘smash and grab against our democracy’ as he wrote to the Queen to demand a meeting – but the move to prorogue Parliament had already been agreed
What is the prorogation process and how was it begun today at Balmoral?
Prorogation is the end of a Parliamentary session. These typically last around a year, although the current one has been running since June 2017.
Once Parliament is prorogued, it does not sit again until the next State Opening of Parliament, which features the Queen’s Speech.
In centuries gone by, it could sometimes be months or years before Parliament would next meet. But in modern times it is usually a matter of days or weeks.
It is usually uncontroversial and Boris Johnson’s allies argue that today’s move is a standard procedural step for a new government, but opponents accused him of trying to lock Parliament out of the Brexit process.
The Queen started the ball rolling on the prorogation process today, approving a document at Balmoral which orders Parliament to be prorogued no later than Thursday, September 12.
After a meeting with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Lords Leader Baroness Natalie Evans, the Queen approved suspending proceedings for 32 days between September 12 and October 14.
Five people are appointed to a Royal Commission to carry out the Queen’s orders. On the day itself, they will summon MPs into the House of Lords chamber for the prorogation ceremony.
The Queen’s orders are read out, and any Bills that are yet to receive Royal Assent are finally rubber-stamped and become law.
In a quirky Parliamentary tradition, the Clerk of the Parliament announces the Royal Assent in Norman French: ‘La Reyne le veult’, or ‘The Queen wills it’.
A prorogation speech is read out on behalf of the Queen. Like the Queen’s Speech, it is written by the Government and reviews its legislative programme over the last year.
Parliamentary business is then over for the session and any Bills which have not been passed will usually have to be started afresh in the next session.
The PM outlined his decision to suspend Parliament in a letter sent to MPs this morning.
In the letter he said: ‘This morning I spoke to Her Majesty The Queen to request an end to the current parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September, before commencing the second session of this Parliament with a Queen’s speech on Monday 14 October.
‘A central feature of the legislative programme will be the Government’s number one legislative priority, if a new deal is forthcoming at EU Council, to introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill and move at pace to secure its passage before 31 October.’
Mr Johnson said the weeks leading up to the European Council would be ‘vitally important for the sake of my negotiations with the EU’ in a sign that he does not want MPs to do anything to derail his hopes of striking an agreement.
He believes the option of a No Deal split is important negotiating leverage.
‘Member States are watching what Parliament does with great interest and it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by Parliament,’ he said.
‘In the meantime, the Government will take the responsible approach of continuing its preparations for leaving the EU, with or without a deal.’
Mr Johnson also stressed in his letter that MPs will have the chance to vote on the government’s approach to Brexit after the EU Council meeting.
‘Should I succeed in agreeing a deal with the EU, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Bill required for ratification of the deal ahead of 31 October,; he said.
Bookmakers responded to the news by slashing the odds of a No Deal Brexit. Betfair put the odds of No Deal split at 5/4 – the shortest odds ever.
Despite Mr Johnson’s protestations to the contrary, opposition MPs and Tory rebels responded with fury to the move and accused him of trying to sideline the Commons.
John Bercow labels move to suspend Parliament a ‘constitutional outrage’
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has criticised Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament.
Mr Bercow said the move was ‘an offence against the democratic process’.
His intervention represents a significant development because he will play a major role in the coming days if and when Remain-backing MPs try to seize control of the Commons to pass an anti-No Deal law.
Mr Bercow will likely have to agree to bend parliamentary rules to allow such a development.
He said: ‘I have had no contact from the Government, but if the reports that it is seeking to prorogue Parliament are confirmed, this move represents a constitutional outrage.
‘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.
‘At this time, one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, it is vital that our elected Parliament has its say. After all, we live in a parliamentary democracy.
‘Shutting down Parliament would be an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives.’
The move means rebels have only up to five days to spring their plot to stop a No Deal Brexit on October 31.
Remain MPs want to do this by either passing new legislation to delay Brexit or toppling Mr Johnson’s government in a vote of no confidence.
They have accused the Prime Minister of a ‘constitutional outrage’ by getting the Queen to formally approve the suspension order this afternoon as Mr Johnson laid down the gauntlet to Jeremy Corbyn and the ‘Remain Alliance’.
Mr Corbyn accused the PM of launching a ‘smash and grab against our democracy’.
Before it became clear the prorogation was already a fait accompli he announced he had written to the Queen to demand a meeting – putting the Queen’s political neutrality at greater risk than ever.
He said: ‘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.
‘That is why Labour has been working across Parliament to hold this reckless government to account, and prevent a disastrous No Deal which parliament has already ruled out.
‘If Johnson has confidence in his plans he should put them to the people in a general election or public vote.’
But some mocked his efforts to drag the monarch into the political fray.
Former Cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell said: ‘The Queen had no choice. She has done exactly the right thing. It is really important that we keep the Queen above politics.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith mocked Mr Corbyn’s letter, saying: ’The idea that the Queen should overrule her prime minister on something as routine as a new session of parliament shows a complete ignorance of the way our constitution works.
‘But it also shows he has been completely wrong-footed. Here we have a man who cannot stand the Queen and wants to get rid of her asking her to use constitutional powers he does not respect in order to overrule a democratically elected government. It is tokenistic nonsense.’
Furious opposition MPs reacted to the news this morning that Parliament would be suspended until shortly before the Brexit deadline
Prorogation: standard Parliamentary practice or unconstitutional coup?
The decision to suspend Parliament for a month has been criticised as an ‘affront’ to Britain’s democracy by parliamentary experts.
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