Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue – temporarily suspend – parliament for five weeks is intended to stop critics from preventing the UK from leaving the European Union without a deal on October 31, although the move is presented by the government as intended to ensure that Britain leaves the EU. Parliament was supposed to have reconvened on September 3, with lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit intending to attempt to pass a law requiring the government to seek an extension to the EU’s Brexit deadline and potentially hold a second referendum. “A constitutional outrage,” Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has said. “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty.
The prorogation, approved by the Queen, means the opposition to no-deal may try to hold a vote of no-confidence in the government, which would require Conservative support. This remains unlikely but is probably also part of Mr Johnson’s calculation that a resulting general election would return him to power with more authority than his currently razor thin majority. Mr Johnson will attend the next EU Council meeting on October 17-18, at which he hopes to strike a new Brexit deal that he would then ram through parliament.
But Mr Johnson is unlikely to return with any changes of substance to the deal his predecessor Theresa May tried and failed to pass, which the EU has steadfastly warned and which Mr Johnson will have certainly considered. If negotiations with the EU fail, Mr Johnson will take Britain out of the EU without a deal. This leaves few cards to play for the opposition to no-deal Brexit: it can call a vote of no-confidence next week, but that would require a vote of confidence in someone else, with no obvious candidate to win that and still allowing Mr Johnson to call a general election on a date of his choice.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove, the Minister in charge of planning for no-deal, has refused to rule out the possibility that the government could ignore any law passed by parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit, insisting there would be no food shortages in the event that the UK crashes out, flatly contradicting the government’s own estimates of chaos at ports with no customs rules in place. The British economy already contracted -0.2% in Q2 as businesses are forced to operate in a shroud of uncertainty.
In addition to the imminent economic concerns about the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, concerns about the undemocratic nature of Mr Johnson’s move were expressed broadly across the political spectrum. “This government’s unprecedented willingness to flout the rules is a disgrace to democracy,” said Conservative MP Guto Bebb. “Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his government.” But Yascha Mounk, a political scientist, warns against overreaction in the sense that the British political system is too entrenched to be destroyed by Mr Johnson or a political crisis. It is, however, “equally futile to deny that [he] is trying to stop the country’s democratic institutions from shaping a decision of enormous importance.”
Image: (c) Office of the Prime Minister (Wikimedia Commons)