Dark day for democracy
● Davidson to quit as Scots Tory leader after Johnson shuts down Parliament ● MPS condemn ‘constitutional outrage’ ● Sturgeon: Independence ‘inevitable’
Boris Johnson has triggered a constitutional crisis by asking the Queen to shut Parliament for five weeks, raising the chances of a general election and a no-deal Brexit and prompting claims he is a “tinpot dictator” mounting a “coup”.
The Prime Minister requested that Parliament be prorogued the week after next, slashing the time MPS opposing a no-deal Brexit have to try to stop the UK crashing out of the EU.
Downing Street insisted that the move was not an attempt to avoid democratic scrutiny of its Brexit plans. But it triggered a wave of condemnation, including an unprecedented intervention from the Commons Speaker John Bercow, who described it as a “constitutional outrage”.
And last night the decision appeared to have come at a high political cost for the Scottish Conservatives, with their leader Ruth Davidson said to be on the brink of resignation, in part over the widening gulf between her party and Mr Johnson’s Downing Street.
Parliament is expected to close down on 11 September, just a week after MPS return from the summer recess.
It will remain shut until 14 October, when the government will unveil a new legislative programme with fresh commitments on the NHS, education, law and order and infrastructure that Conservatives hope will carry them through a snap general election. Tory sources said the chances of an early vote had “shot up” following the Prime Minister’s announcement.
In an unprecedented political appeal to the sovereign, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “protested in the strongest possible terms” in a letter to the Queen, asking for an urgent meeting of opposition privy counsellors to lobby her not to approve the request.
The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson also wrote to Her Majesty asking for a meeting, but the requests were too late.
After an audience with the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-mogg, at Balmoral early yesterday, an order in council was approved by the Queen and published just before 3pm.
It gives opponents of a nodeal Brexit a matter of days to try to stop the UK crashing out of the EU. Opposition parties only agreed on Tuesday to pursue legislation that will seek to force Mr Johnson to extend the UK’S 31 October Brexit deadline.
The Queen’s swift response leaves the courts as the only possible avenue to block prorogation. As reported in The Scotsman yesterday, MPS supporting a legal bid to have the suspension of parliament ruled unconstitutional confirmed they would seek an interim interdict at the Court of Session.
Signalling a tough parliamentary battle ahead for the government, senior Conservative backbenchers voiced their anger at the decision to suspend parliament.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond called it “profoundly undemocratic”, adding that it “would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis”.
The former justice secretary David Gauke said the move set “a dangerous precedent”. And former attorney general
Dominic Grieve warned he was ready to vote to bring down the government – which has a working majority of one – in order to block a no-deal Brexit.
“I think there are a number of colleagues who have said exactly the same thing,” Mr Grieve added.
Shadow chancellor John Mcdonnell described it as a “very British coup” and Labour frontbencher Clive Lewis called for people to “take to the streets”.
Mr Bercow interrupted a family holiday to accuse the
government of committing an “offence against the democratic process”.
Cabinet ministers were told of the decision via a telephone call yesterday morning. The Prime Minister insisted the prorogation was to allow a new legislative programme after the longest session of parliament since the Act of Union, and denied the government was acting undemocratically.
“There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial 17 October summit, ample time in parliament for MPS to debate the EU, to debate Brexit, and all the other issues,” Mr Johnson said.
In a letter to MPS, the Prime Minister added: “These weeks leading up to the European Council on 17/18 October are vitally important for the sake of my negotiations with the EU. Member states are watching what Parliament does with great interest, and it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by Parliament.”
Conservative MPS backing the Prime Minister dismissed concerns about prorogation as “hysteria”, saying that the suspension was only four days longer than the normal conference recess.
On his way to catch a flight back to London from Aberdeen Airport, Mr Rees-mogg insisted to journalists that prorogation was a “completely proper constitutional procedure”, and claimed critics “wouldn’t know what they were talking about… it’s the normal functioning of our constitution.”
0 A crowd looks on as a protester dressed as Boris Johnson enacts the burial of British democracy outside the Houses of Parliament in a protest organised by Avaaz against the Prime Minister’s latest move