The Slatest

Boris Johnson Moves to Suspend U.K. Parliament Ahead of Brexit, Sparking Outrage and Possibly an Election

The Palace of Westminster with a Union flag in the foreground in central London.
Under the terms of the plan, the Conservative-led government would suspend the country’s Parliament for more than a month starting Sept. 10 until Oct. 14
Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the queen Wednesday to suspend the country’s Parliament, a formal process setting up a constitutional standoff as the new leader tries to ram through Brexit by any means necessary. The act of shutting down Parliament—known as prorogation—has sparked outrage on the left and portions of Johnson’s own Tory party that see the move as an anti-democratic power grab. Under the terms of the plan, the Conservative-led government would suspend the country’s Parliament for more than a month starting Sept. 10 until Oct. 14, at which point Johnson says he will present his “very exciting agenda.”

There appears to be a heaping dose of political gamesmanship in Johnson’s proposal that more likely was intended to trigger a response from the opposition than actually shutter the country’s representative body during the most fraught public policy debate (fight) in generations. While that may yet happen, it would see Parliament essentially silenced for far longer than is normal in the prorogation process, which usually last days, and make it virtually impossible for the country’s elected leaders to influence the terms of Brexit, which Johnson is committed to seeing through by the Oct. 31 deadline.

The reactions poured in from both the opposition—led by the Labour Party—and Conservative MPs that support remaining part of the EU or, minimally, are against a “no-deal” Brexit, which would see the U.K. leaving without a negotiated withdrawal, an outcome expected to wreak economic havoc on the country in the short term. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, a Conservative MP himself, described the move as a “constitutional outrage.” “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country,” Bercow said. “[It’s] an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives.”

“If the prime minister persists with this and doesn’t back off, then I think the chances are that his administration will collapse,” Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said. “There is plenty of time to do that if necessary [and] I will certainly vote to bring down a Conservative government that persists in a course of action which is so unconstitutional.” In the end, triggering a vote of no confidence may be the point here. Parliament is currently in recess until Sept. 3. When MPs arrive back in Westminster, that would give them a full week to organize either legislation that would prevent a no-deal Brexit or, more likely, call for a vote of no confidence, which, if successful, would send the country back to the polls.

The Johnson-led Conservative coalition government currently has a one-vote majority and a host of Tory parliamentarians that neither voted for Brexit nor believe a no-deal departure is in anyone’s best interest. Judging by the initial response, the prime minister’s plan to suspend Parliament seems like it will sufficiently galvanize opposition parties and defiant Tory members and that could bring down the government, potentially setting up new elections for mid-October. The thinking goes that Johnson could then use Brexit—and years of parliamentary deadlock on how to proceed—to motivate and unite Brexit-supporting voters across the right to gain seats and wrest more control from what is an increasingly like-minded but still politically fractured pro-EU opposition.