27 January 2020
Boris Johnson's plan to suspend the UK parliament ahead of Brexit has been described as a 'coup' by the opposition. Photo: Reuters
Boris Johnson's plan to suspend the UK parliament ahead of Brexit has been described as a 'coup' by the opposition. Photo: Reuters

Johnson to suspend parliament before Brexit, sparking furor

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to suspend parliament for more than a month before Brexit, enraging his opponents and sparking a fresh political controversy.

On Wednesday Johnson launched his boldest move yet to take Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal, by setting a new date for a state opening of parliament, Reuters reports.

Known as the Queen’s Speech, the formal event will be held on Oct. 14 and be preceded by a suspension of the House of Commons, meaning parliament will not sit between mid-September and mid-October.

The move limits the time opponents have to derail a disorderly Brexit, but also increases the chance that Johnson could face a vote of no-confidence in his government, and possibly an election, the report said.

It also risks dragging the 93-year-old, politically neutral Queen Elizabeth into the dispute.

So incensed were leaders of the opposition parties by Johnson’s plan that several have written to the monarch asking for a meeting to express their concern.

The queen acts on the advice of her prime minister. Her speech at the opening of parliament is written by the government, outlining its plans for legislation.

“There will be ample time in parliament for MPs (members of parliament) to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues, ample time,” Johnson told reporters.

Asked if he was trying to block MPs from delaying Britain’s EU departure, he replied: “That is completely untrue.”

While suspending parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is the historical norm in Britain, the decision to limit parliamentary scrutiny weeks before the country’s most contentious policy decision in decades prompted an immediate outcry.

“Make no mistake, this is a very British coup,” John McDonnell, the second most powerful man in the opposition Labour Party, said.

In a sign that Johnson’s move had marked a significant escalation in the long-running dispute, a group of cross-party lawmakers sought a legal injunction, and the speaker of parliament said the nation’s democratic process was at risk.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will call a no-confidence vote when the time is right.

The pro-EU Conservative Party lawmaker Dominic Grieve said he will find it difficult to “keep confidence in the government” in the circumstances while Philip Hammond, a former finance minister, said pro-EU politicians need to act now.

Johnson argued, however, that the move was designed to allow his government to press on with its domestic agenda.

He says he wants to agree a divorce deal with Brussels but needs the bloc to change its stance on a key sticking point around neighbor Ireland first.

A leading campaigner in the 2016 Brexit referendum, he has also said Britain must leave the EU to maintain the nation’s faith in politics.

Parliament returns from its summer break on Sept. 3 before typically breaking up two weeks later to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences. Returning again on Oct. 14 would leave just over two weeks until Britain is due to quit the EU on Oct. 31.

Lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit will likely have to make their move next week if they are to avoid running out of time, the report noted.

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