Boris Johnson provoked a constitutional uproar on Wednesday when he announced plans to shut down parliament for five weeks, daring opponents of his Brexit strategy to vote down his government.
The prime minister asked the Queen to prorogue parliament between the second week of September and October 14 — the longest suspension since 1945. The move, designed to thwart MPs’ efforts to stop a no-deal Brexit on October 31, was described by John Bercow, Speaker of the Commons, as a “constitutional outrage”.
Mr Johnson has insisted that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal. However, a majority of MPs oppose departing the bloc without an agreement and will now move quickly to try to force the government to change course when parliament returns on September 3.
Queen Elizabeth II has agreed to the request to suspend Parliament just days after it returns from summer recess next week, until mid-October, to force through a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson on Wednesday morning asked the monarch to prorogue Parliament on September 9, just days after members return from their summer break, until October 14.
It means MPs who oppose a no-deal Brexit and are plotting to stop it will have just days to find a way of doing so, either side of these dates. The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on October 31.
The request is a normally a formality under the UK constitution. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders requested a meeting with the queen to request she block Johnson’s request.
The pound fell 0.7% against the dollar and 0.6% against the euro on Wednesday afternoon, following news of Johnson’s move.
The House of Commons’ speaker, John Bercow, described the decision as a “constitutional outrage.”
“However it is dressed up it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty,” he said in a statement.
In a letter to all members of Parliament, Johnson defended the decision, saying lawmakers would still have an opportunity to debate Brexit after he has finished negotiations with the EU and before Britain’s October 31 exit date.
“Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the Government’s overall programme, and approach to Brexit, in the run up to EU Council, and then vote on this on 21 and 22 October, once we know the outcome of the Council,” he wrote.
The prime minister told ITV News that MPs would have “ample time” to scrutinize Britain’s exit from the EU.
“We need new legislation, we’ve got to be bringing forward new and important bills, and that’s why we are going to have a queen’s speech and we are going to do it on October 14 and we have got to move ahead now with a new legislative program,” he said.
“If you look at what we are doing, we are bringing forward a new legislative program on crime, on hospitals, making sure that we have the education funding that we need and there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit.
“Ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU to debate Brexit and all the other issues. Ample time.”
Under Johnson’s timetable, his government would deliver the queen’s speech — its policy agenda for that session of Parliament — on Monday, October 14. A queen’s speech usually comes with five days of parliamentary debate.
Former Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond condemned the move.
“It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis,” he tweeted. “Profoundly undemocratic.”
Brexit opponents said Johnson’s move was an act of tyranny and called on the queen to step in.
“It would make no sense for the queen to back this deeply undemocratic, unconstitutional and fundamentally political maneuver from the government,” Naomi Smith, the CEO of the pro-EU group Best for Britain, said.
“If the queen is asked to help, she would do well to remember history doesn’t look too kindly on royals who aid and abet the suspension of democracy.”
During the Conservative leadership contest, Johnson played down the prospect of his suspending Parliament as prime minister, saying it was a course of action that he was “not attracted to.”
His move to do so sets up what will almost certainly be a frantic few days in the House of Commons in which MPs on all sides work furiously to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal on October 31.