Dark day for democ­racy

● David­son to quit as Scots Tory leader af­ter John­son shuts down Par­lia­ment ● MPS con­demn ‘con­sti­tu­tional out­rage’ ● Stur­geon: Independen­ce ‘in­evitable’

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS West­min­ster Cor­re­spon­dent paris.gourtsoyan­nis@scots­man.com

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

PIC­TURE: PETER SUM­MERS/GETTY

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