London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday sought a suspension of Parliament until October 14 to present what he described as a new bold and ambitious legislative agenda, just two weeks before the Brexit deadline.
Downing Street said Johnson had already spoken to Queen Elizabeth II to request an end to the current parliamentary session in its second sitting week next month, starting September 9. "Following the conclusion of the traditional party conference season, the second session of this Parliament will commence with a Queen's Speech on Monday October 14,” Downing Street said.
Johnson briefed his Cabinet of the plan at a meeting earlier, highlighting the number one legislative priority as Brexit. If a new deal is forthcoming at the European Council in mid-October, he will then introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill and “move at pace” to secure its passage before October 31.
“I believe it is vital that Parliament is sitting both before and after European Council and if, as I hope, a deal with the EU is forthcoming, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill required for ratification ahead of October 31,” Johnson said in a statement.
“We must focus on crucial public priorities – helping the NHS [National Health Service], fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living. We have made an important start – funding for 20,000 extra police officers and new investment in our NHS – but to deliver on the public's priorities we require a new session and a Queen's Speech,” he added.
Downing Street further elaborated that the decision to end the current parliamentary session, which is "the longest in close to 400 years and in recent months one of the least active", will enable Johnson to put a fresh domestic programme in front of MPs for debate and scrutiny while also ensuring that there is good time before and after the European Council, scheduled for October 17 and 18 – for Parliament to further consider Brexit issues.
Crucial voting on legislation is likely to fall on October 21 and 22. Reacting to the Prime Minister's move to suspend Parliament, UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it "represents a constitutional outrage." Bercow said he was not told in advance of Prime Minister Johnson's decision.
He said "it is blindingly obvious" that the purpose of the suspension "would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country." Bercow said that Johnson should be seeking to establish his democratic credentials, rather than undermine them.
He adds that "shutting down Parliament would be an offense against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people's elected representatives." The Downing Street statement followed unconfirmed media reports earlier of such a plan to prorogue Parliament during September – a month traditionally dedicated to conferences by all major political parties.
The move would lead to a customary Queen's Speech – which lays out a new UK government's parliamentary business for the year – on October 14. It is widely seen as an attempt to block MPs from tabling and debating any other major legislation, including an attempt by the Opposition to prevent a no-deal Brexit by the October 31 deadline.
Parliament returns from summer recess – or break – next Monday, and another recess was expected to take place between roughly September 13 and October 8 to cover the political conference season. There had been hopes that the second break could be shortened to keep business going in the run-up to Brexit.
The move to shut down Parliament – known as prorogation – has caused controversy, with critics saying it would stop MPs being able to use legislative measures to prevent a damaging British exit from the European Union (EU) as part of Johnson's “do or die” Brexit pledge.
The UK government move comes a day after the Opposition parties had been able to agree on a strategy of using legislative means to work together to prevent Johnson leaving the EU without any agreement in place by the October 31 Brexit deadline.
Johnson, meanwhile, held what was described as a “positive and substantive conversation” with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker on Tuesday evening. “The Prime Minister set out that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, whatever the circumstances, and that we absolutely want to do so with a deal. The PM was also clear however that unless the Withdrawal Agreement is reopened and the backstop abolished there is no prospect of that deal,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Therefore, the issue of an Irish backstop – the EU's post-Brexit insurance policy on an open border between EU member-country Ireland and UK territory Northern Ireland – continues to be central to the UK-EU standoff.
Brexiteers like Johnson have claimed the backstop would be used by the 28-member economic bloc to keep the UK tied to EU rules even after Brexit. The controversial clause led to a withdrawal agreement struck by his predecessor, Theresa May, being rejected repeatedly in Parliament following negotiations triggered since Britain voted to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum.