Prorogation, the most contentious word in British Politics
28 August 2019, Blog
In the heat of Westminster, and after returning from the G7 summit, Boris has topped the headlines again with the news today that he intends to suspend Parliament from mid-September for 4 weeks in order to hold a new Queen’s Speech in mid-October. This is known as “proroguing” Parliament and is in effect a mid-term break.
This suspension is, according to the Government, well overdue and Number 10 have pointed out that MPs on all sides have been calling for a new session for some time. The current session has been the longest since the English Civil War, and has been running continuously since the General Election in 2017. A Queen’s Speech is necessary to reshape the Government’s legislative agenda, and provide a framework for Parliamentary debates, upcoming bills and legislation. Since his appointment as Prime Minister, Boris has been focusing his policy announcements on the NHS, Policing and Brexit so we can expect all of these issues to feature heavily in the upcoming Queen’s Speech.
Of course, this move is being seen by the Government’s critics as an attempt to side-line Parliament and push through a no deal Brexit. It’s worth remembering though, that the MPs claiming that this is a constitutional outrage were apparently plotting just a couple of weeks ago to overthrow the Government and install a ‘caretaker PM’ such as Ken Clarke. More reasonably, just yesterday, opposition MPs met to discuss ways in which to avoid a no-deal Brexit, deciding ultimately they would prefer to pass new legislation to prevent no deal, rather than gambling on a no-confidence vote. Theresa May’s repeated line of ‘the only way to prevent no deal, is to vote for a deal’ is likely to be focusing the minds of some Remain backing MPs in the weeks ahead.
As the media examines the outcomes of the G7 summit, and the tiniest hints that a new deal *could* be done and put to Parliament before 31st October, what to make of today’s news? It is likely to be part of a grand strategy by Number 10’s Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, to persuade the EU that Parliament cannot stop a No Deal exit. Number 10’s calculation (and perhaps its wish) is that this would then force the EU to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and ditch the backstop to avoid no deal. Of course, if the Government loses a vote of no confidence, we can expect a snap General Election with the Conservatives fighting on a ‘Parliament Vs the People’ campaign.
With the Government now firmly fixed on the 31st October exit date, Boris is trying to force the issue one way or the other. A key part of Brexit will be the ‘blame game’ afterwards, with each side wanting to portray the other as being unwilling to compromise – it is therefore vital for both the UK Government and the EU to be seen as cooperative. The Brexit dividing line is polarising, and perhaps re-aligning, our politics beyond traditional boundaries and whilst each side calls for consensus, the reality of a binary 52:48 vote on such a contentious issue cannot be avoided. Things will inevitably get worse before they get better.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that Boris Johnson’s Government has a clear strategy to drive the agenda and be in charge of events. It’s likely to be a do or die approach.