Rumours of Boris Johnson’s plans to prorogue Parliament were confirmed this Wednesday when the UK Prime Minister announced the government’s plan to end this parliamentary session on 12th September and to delay the inauguration of the new session until 14th October. This is no small matter in the UK, where most unfinished parliamentary business falls when a session ends, and planned parliamentary business for the two week September session will be all but scrapped.
The move has been met with fury by politicians and citizens opposed to the UK leaving the EU without a deal or to leaving the EU at all. They see the Prime Minister’s decision as an affront to democracy and have accused the government of using the process to limit the number of days available for MPs to table a vote of no confidence ahead of the Brexit deadline.
Downing Street responded that the current session of parliament, which began in June 2017, is the longest since the Civil War, and that September and October are traditionally conference season months when sitting days are limited. They say the prorogation will result in only 4 lost sitting days and that it is necessary for the government to focus on a new domestic agenda.
The Opposition is not having it
Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are unimpressed by this explanation. They say the government is well aware of the crucial timing of this prorogation considering the short period of time left until 31st October, when the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal, unless a further extension of Article 50 is requested and granted.
Back in April, MPs managed to pass a law to force the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, to ask for an extension to the UK’s EU membership and they are seeking to do the same again now. Jeremy Corbyn has met other opposition leaders to find a way to force the Prime Minister to ask the EU for a further Brexit delay and has said that opposition MPs will use Parliament’s short return next week to pass a law blocking a no-deal Brexit. It is understood that MPs plan to apply for an emergency debate as soon as next Tuesday, allowing them to take control of the parliamentary timetable.
A No 10 source says opposition MPs are seeking to sabotage the UK’s position in talks with Brussels, which, it insisted, were making progress.
It is business as usual in the EU
Meanwhile, the EU is preparing for all possible scenarios. Michel Barnier, EU Chief negotiator for Brexit, tweeted a day after the UK Parliament prorogation announcement “PM Boris Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland. It is our duty & our responsibility”. When asked what the consequences of the prorogation would be for the Brexit negotiations, Commission Chief spokesperson, Mina Andreeva, refused to be drawn, responding that it was a question for the UK only.
The crux of the issue remains the UK’s demands to the EU to drop the backstop measure for the Irish Border, which Brussels has repeatedly refused to do. The EU accuses the UK’s Prime Minister in turn of being clear on what he does not want but not being able to propose any alternative plan or solution. Can this impasse be overcome?
What is next?
Johnson has promised a renewed effort to secure a deal with the EU before 31st October, with the UK’s negotiators set to meet EU counterparts twice a week next month, ahead of the EU summit on 17th and 18th October.
The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st October and it remains to be seen whether the two sides will be able to reach an agreement by then.
Whitehouse Consultancy’s Chairman, Chris Whitehouse, discusses prorogation on CNBC
On his latest contribution to CNBC, Chris Whitehouse discussed these recent developments and his contribution can be found below:
The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.