The developments come one week after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a dramatic move by asking Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament. The queen approved his request.
“It is this day ordered by Her Majesty in Council that the Parliament be prorogued on a day no earlier than Monday the 9th day of September and no later than Thursday the 12th day of September 2019 to Monday the 14th day of October 2019,” the announcement supporting Johnson’s request read.
Johnson, who has been Britain’s leader since July, told reporters last week that his move to close Parliament — known as “proroguing” in formal British political lingo — would allow his government a fresh start to set out its “very exciting agenda.”
But as with much in Britain these days, many think the real point of the move is simple: Brexit. By suspending Parliament between Sept. 11 and Oct. 14, as Johnson has proposed, politicians would have far less time to try to stop or stall Britain’s likely exit from the E.U.
Johnson’s critics think the prime minister’s push to deliver Brexit at all costs has sparked a constitutional crisis in Britain.
What is proroguing?
Although Johnson’s use of proroguing is unusual, the suspension of Parliament is a regular occurrence in British politics. It is normally done once a year, often between a yearly session in late April or early May. It is different from the dissolution of Parliament, which is done before a general election.
If Parliament is prorogued, members keep their seats and continue to do work in their constituencies, with only their parliamentary work suspended. The move brings to a close all parliamentary business that is being worked on — such as bills and motions — although some can be carried on to the next session.
There is customarily a suspension of Parliament in Britain for three weeks in September, during which time political parties hold conferences. Johnson’s proposal would extend that period to more than one month.
Notably, Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, did not prorogue Parliament in 2018, as she said her government needed more time to work on Brexit laws.
How is the queen involved?
British politicians don’t vote on whether to prorogue Parliament. Instead, the decision is made by the queen. In practice, she makes the decision on the advice of her prime minister — in this case, Johnson.
If Parliament is prorogued, an announcement on behalf of the queen will be read out in both houses of Parliament. When it is reopened, the queen will make a speech that sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session.
The queen has generally remained neutral on political issues, although she has been reported to have made remarks that were interpreted as calling for calm amid the chaos of Brexit.
The British royal was on holiday in Scotland at her Balmoral residence last week, but approved Johnson’s request last Wednesday.
Why would Johnson do this?
In his letter announcing he had asked the queen to prorogue Parliament, Johnson noted May’s decision not to close it and said the length of the session had meant “Parliamentary business has been sparse.” Johnson suggested that his decision would help set a “new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit.”
However, by suspending Parliament just days after British lawmakers return from their breaks, Johnson has cut down the amount of time they have to try to legislatively block or delay Britain’s exit from the E.U. — leaving just a handful of days in September and late October for a move.
It also means there is less time for Parliament to pass laws designed to soften the economic damage that could be caused by a “no-deal” Brexit, which is the default if Britain doesn’t reach a withdrawal agreement with E.U. member states before Oct. 31.
The Institute for Government says that the last time a government used proroguing to get around opposition to government policy was in 1948, when the government of Clement Attlee pushed through a measure that curtailed the power of Britain’s House of Lords.
Can his plan be stopped?
Possibly, but it may be difficult. Many British lawmakers, who are on vacation from Parliament, are angered by Johnson’s move.
Members of the British public are also concerned, and many have signed a petition calling for Parliament not to be prorogued or dissolved.
Parliament considers all petitions that generate more than 100,000 signatures for debate, which means this particular petition will come to the attention of the British government and should generate a response.
While the petition continues to grow, however, it’s unlikely that it will stop Johnson’s plan. A past petition titled “Revoke Article 50 and remain in the E.U.” generated more than 6 million signatures, yet the government was not forced to take any action.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour opposition party, called Johnson’s no-deal Brexit plan “reckless” and said that his party will attempt to stop Johnson’s move next week.
If MPs did call for — and win — a vote of no-confidence in Johnson, they could form an alternative government and prime minister. Lawmakers also could head to court for a judicial review in a bid to prevent Johnson from shutting down Parliament.
Some initially hoped early last Wednesday that the queen would refuse Johnson’s recommendation to prorogue Parliament, but such a move would have been a major break with the modern tradition of an apolitical role for the British head of state.
How do you even pronounce proroguing?
Well, it’s the word of the day in Britain, along with the terms “prorogue”and “prorogation,” all of which have caused many people to pause as they try to unpack the hot mess that is Brexit.
Our best advice is that it’s pro plus rogue with an “ing” thrown on the end.
“If you support proroguing are you proprorogue?” one BBC journalist pondered on Wednesday.