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What’s Happening With The Prorogation?

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble

What does Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament mean, and what does it truly entail?

By Bethany Dawson

On the morning of the 28th of August, 10 Downing Street revealed they were going to request the Queen’s permission to prorogue – or suspend – Parliament, which she gave later in the day. Like many facets of politics today, this has proven to be a deeply polarising issue. But what does it actually mean? 

Boris Johnson has announced he’s calling the end of Parliament. On the surface, that sounds deeply dramatic, as though the doors to Westminster will close indefinitely, and MPs will flutter from their roles and back to civility. On the contrary, prorogation is a rather commonplace occurrence, often cropping up in the autumn. It’s in fact overdue, with our Parliament having been open for over two years, making it the longest standing Parliament for over 400 years. When Parliament is prorogued, legislation, tabled motions, and any other items on the parliamentary agenda are terminated. In other words, the agenda is wiped clean for Parliament to return bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a new year. 

Essentially, for Parliament to be prorogued is commonplace. So, with this in mind: what’s all the fuss about? 

Firstly, Johnson has proposed for this specific progrogation to last for five weeks, rather than anywhere close to the average mark of eight days. It should be noted, however, that three of these five weeks are part of normal parliamentary recess, where MPs would be attending their party conferences and simply stressing and tweeting about Brexit rather than actually debating it. The length of the prorogation is something of an alarm bell, but the real uproar is concerning the particular context of the announcement, which was made less than 24 hours after opposition MPs, including Corbyn, came to an agreement that they would table legislation to be heard that would – if passed – force Johnson to request another extension from the EU, thus minimising the chance of the UK leaving the EU with no deal on the 31st of October. Interestingly, this bill would have had a significant chance of passing due to the number of Conservative Party rebels growing. However, as per the prorogation, there will now be no time for this bill to be heard. The suspension thus acts as a mechanism for Johnson to remove any parliamentary influence on Brexit, and therefore to shift the power to himself and members of his cabinet whom he deems suitable. This centralisation of power explains the sea of angry neon signs currently decorating the surrounds of Parliament and wider Westminster that equate the prorogation with  the dissolution of parliamentary sovereignty. Within this context, MPs now do not have the opportunity to make any comments, table any debates, or make a final, valiant lunge at tackling Brexit. 

As it currently stands, Parliament will either be suspended as a no-deal Brexit looms ever closer, or, conceivably, Parliament will call a vote of no-confidence and – if successful – thus trigger a general election. Since John Bercow, Speaker of the House and the one who decides which bills are heard, described the prorogation as a “constitutional outrage”, we might therefore be seeing the third vote of no-confidence in 2019 coming to our government very soon. 

The situation is not simple, as, unfortunately, little is in Politics at the moment. There’s one side of the argument coming to Johnson’s defence, suggesting that the prorogation is commonplace, overdue, and quotidian. The other – louder – side of the argument its putting forth the notion that Johnson’s decision and removal of vocality from his Parliament is a veritable middle finger to representative democracy. Whatever side of this addition to the list of polarising issues you sit on, it does not look as though British politics will be quieting down any time soon. 

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