Parliament Has Been Shutdown. How Did This Happen And What Next?

MPs have accused the prime minister of trying to squash attempts to block a no-deal Brexit. Here's what it all means.

Parliament has been shutdown for five weeks despite thousands taking to the streets to protest and cross-party outrage from MPs who want it to stay open.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said it is “completely untrue” the government is suspending parliament in an attempt to game the system and squash MPs’ attempts to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

He claims it allows him to set out a fresh domestic agenda in a new Queen’s Speech, due to take place on October 14, and that parliament will lose just four sitting days.

So, what is going on and how does this whole process work?

Why did Johnson have to ask the Queen to suspend parliament?

The UK is a parliamentary democracy with an unelected monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – acting as head of state, as opposed to an elected president.

The Queen has no real power, however, and is duty bound to follow the advice of the elected MPs of parliament, ultimately represented by the prime minister, with whom she meets regularly.

Johnson secured her consent to prorogue parliament last month.

Why does the PM want to prorogue parliament?

First of all, ‘prorogue’ is just the official parliamentary word for ‘suspend’. Johnson has said that after succeeding Theresa May as the head of government, he wants to set out a fresh domestic agenda.

The government, which is the party with a working majority, controls parliamentary business in the House of Commons. In other words, what gets debated and what laws get passed.

After securing the Queen’s consent, parliament is being suspended from the week beginning September 10 until 14 October 14.

On October 14, the Queen will make the Queen’s Speech, which is an address to parliament written by the government, usually made regularly, setting out the prime minister’s legislative agenda. MPs are then able to vote on. Johnson has said his will be a “bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda”.

So why are MPs angry?

They don’t believe what Johnson says and think that his real game is to avoid scrutiny in the Commons over his Brexit plans.

The UK is due to leave the EU on October 31 and, as it stands, there is no deal in place.

According to the government’s own analysis, a no-deal Brexit could spark riots, shortages of food and medicines, a hard border in Northern Ireland and widespread chaos at UK ports.

Johnson has refused to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline and will not rule out leaving without a deal on Halloween if his attempts at a renegotiation with Brussels fail.

His ministers refuse to make clear that he will obey the anti-no-deal Brexit legislation passed by MPs earlier this month, which compels the PM to delay Brexit if on October 19 the UK still faces no-deal. In fact, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said Johnson will “test to the limit” the letter of the law.

Johnson has also twice tabled a motion for a snap general election, with MPs rejecting the idea saying the PM is aiming to wrench the UK from the bloc with no-deal during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, Tory Remainer Amber Rudd has resigned saying she does not believe Johnson is seeking a deal.

Johnson has insisted he wants a deal and that EU leaders must remove the Northern Ireland backstop in order to get one, but MPs don’t think he can be trusted not to leave without one.

What next?

It is important to remember that Johnson has lost his working majority, having expelled 21 Tory MPs for voting against the government over the anti-no-deal law.

When parliament returns on October 14, it is therefore highly likely that Johnson will be unable to get a Queen’s speech passed by parliament.

After that, MPs could table vote of no confidence in Johnson. If Johnson loses, a general election could be triggered

Or, if the threat of a no-deal Brexit has not been averted and Johnson has not by then requested an extension to Article 50 - he has said he would rather “die in a ditch” than do as much - MPs could form an alternative government with a new PM.

Jeremy Corbyn has said, as leader of Labour, which is the largest opposition party, he would try to win a confidence vote. A unifying figure, such as Labour’s Harriet Harman or Tory MP Ken Clarke, has also been suggested as an alternative.

With all parties in favour of a general election once a no-deal Brexit is off the table, however, the most likely outcome is a general election in November.


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