British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s wheeze of getting the Queen to order a five-week suspension of Parliament means his critics have much less time than they thought to prevent the UK leaving the European Union without a deal on October 31.
Downing Street, however, believes it has taken a decisive step towards achieving Johnson’s stated aim of taking Britain out of the EU by the end of October.
Why did Johnson suspend parliament?
Before today, the preferred option of lawmakers who oppose a no-deal Brexit was to pass a law requiring the government to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline and hold a second referendum, should negotiations with the EU fail to result in a deal.
Those legal moves — cemented at a highly unusual display of opposition unity in the office of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday — were due to begin when Parliament returns from its annual summer break on September 3.
The anti-no-deal brigade planned to block the traditional three-week break for the main parties’ annual conferences, which was due to begin around September 14. Time, and House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, were on their side, they believed.
But Johnson’s move now means they’ve only got a handful of days to engineer the required legislation before the suspension approved by the Queen — which cannot be voted down — takes effect.
That could force them to fall back on Plan B — a vote of no-confidence in the government. The trouble is, for that to succeed, they need Conservative lawmakers to vote against their own party, which was always thought to be a tall order. No surprise, then, to hear all the howls of “constitutional outrage.”
What’s the Queen’s role in all of this?
British governments usually arrange for a new parliamentary session every year or so. According to convention, this happens when the Privy Council, a body of senior politicians who act as the Queen’s official advisers on the exercise of her limited executive powers, request that she “prorogue” (or suspend) parliament.
It would be an act of extraordinary rebellion on the part of the monarch to decline such a request. After all, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when James II was overthrown and replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, was fought over the fundamental issue of the supremacy of parliament. Indeed, the Queen accepted Johnson’s request and approved the five-week suspension of parliament Wednesday.
The new session will begin with the State Opening of Parliament and all of its associated pageantry (carriage processions, trumpets and the like). At the center of it all is the Queen’s Speech, when the monarch reads a text that lays out her government’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session. In reality, the speech is written by Downing Street and on October 14 Her Majesty will simply be a mouthpiece for Johnson.
How does it all play out?
Typically, the Queen’s Speech is followed by several days of parliamentary debate. And while Johnson has hitherto been happy to tear up the norms of British political life, this is a tradition that will suit him very well.