PM Johnson sparks outrage with move to suspend Parliament

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to set Oct 14 for the Queen's Speech, which marks the formal state opening of a new session of Parliament, has been seen as his boldest move yet to take Britain out of the European Union with or without
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to set Oct 14 for the Queen's Speech, which marks the formal state opening of a new session of Parliament, has been seen as his boldest move yet to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal.PHOTO: REUTERS

Suspension would cut parliamentary time in which MPs could try to block a no-deal Brexit

LONDON • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to suspend Parliament for about a month has sparked outrage from MPs who see it as a move to limit Parliament's opportunity to discuss and possibly derail his Brexit plans.

In a move described by some as bold, but criticised by others as reckless, Mr Johnson said he would set Oct 14 for the Queen's Speech - the formal state opening of a new session of Parliament at which Queen Elizabeth II reads a speech prepared by the government, setting out the legislative agenda for the coming year.

That would effectively shut Parliament from mid-September for about a month, reducing the parliamentary time in which lawmakers could try to block a no-deal Brexit.

The sterling fell sharply, losing around a cent against the US dollar and the euro, as investors took the news as a sign that a no-deal Brexit - and the prospect of a hit to Britain's economy - was more likely.

Asked in a broadcast interview if he was trying to block politicians from delaying Britain's departure, Mr Johnson replied: "That is completely untrue. There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial Oct 17 (EU leaders') summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues, ample time."

More than three years after Britain voted by a 52 per cent majority to quit the EU, it is still unclear on what terms - or indeed whether - the bloc's second-largest economy will leave the club it joined in 1973.

With just 64 days until exit day, parliamentarians are battling to prevent the prime minister from steering the country out of the EU without a transitional deal, pitching one of Europe's most stable countries into a constitutional crisis.

On Tuesday, the leaders of Britain's opposition parties joined forces to seek to use parliamentary procedure to force Mr Johnson to delay Brexit beyond Oct 31.

 
 
 
 

Yesterday, Mr Johnson finally showed his hand.

Parliament returns from its summer break on Sept 3 but by convention, it is suspended for the annual conferences of the three main parties, which kick off on Sept 14 and end on Oct 2.

Mr Johnson wants Parliament to return 12 days later on Oct 14. The decision to limit parliamentary scrutiny weeks before the country's most contentious policy decision in decades prompted an immediate outcry.

Parliament Speaker John Bercow said the move was a "constitutional outrage" designed to stop lawmakers from debating Brexit.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement: "I am appalled at the recklessness of Mr 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."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged pro-EU lawmakers to act, describing yesterday as a "dark one indeed for UK democracy" if they did not.

Mr Johnson argued, however, that the move was designed to allow his government to press on with its domestic agenda. "If you look at what we're doing, we're bringing forward a new legislative programme," he said.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Sajid Javid announced he would set out his spending plans for the government on Sept 4.

A Queen's Speech on Oct 14 would delay Parliament's return, and leave lawmakers with just over two weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct 31.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'PM Johnson sparks outrage with move to suspend Parliament'. Print Edition | Subscribe