Prorogation: A “completely proper constitutional procedure” or “constitutional outrage?”

Helen Wales, Chair of Cardiff for Europe speaking at the protest in Cardiff. Credit: Charlotte King

By Maisie Marston

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has announced it will prorogue parliament in September, leaving only weeks before the Brexit deadline. The suspension could last up to five weeks in total, including a three-week period which was already expected to be a recess for party conference season.

Currently, the House of Commons will return on September 3 and prorogation will commence between September 9-12. Prorogation will conclude on October 14 which will be marked by a Queen’s Speech.

A Queen’s Speech is traditionally an annual occurrence marking a new session in Parliament where a Government lays out its priorities and plans. Traditionally there are then 5 days of debate before MPs vote upon this.

Whilst the suspension is usually standard procedure, many have raised their concerns about Johnson’s motives. Especially as the move came less than 24 hours after opposition MPs met to plan their efforts to try and stop a no-deal scenario.

Yesterday, August 28, in Cardiff, over 100 protestors gathered on Queen Street in a protest to oppose the government’s decision. A spokesperson from Cardiff for Europe told Gair Rhydd; “What [Johnson’s] done is he’s trying to force through a no-deal Brexit without Parliament even being consulted… we’re here to say, quite simply, not in our name and if the Government is trying to get around democracy then democracy needs to fight back.”

“If the Government is trying to get around democracy then democracy needs to fight back.”

Another spokesperson for Wales Green Party said: “We have seen a constitutional outrage, a denial of basic democracy. One word that has been used a lot, we are talking about a coup. It is beyond a coup…what we are seeing today is a clarification of our place in society: we are not citizens, we are subjects.”

Similarly, Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow has also broken his silence, calling the move a “constitutional outrage” as he believed its purpose was to “stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing [their] duty in shaping a course for the country.” Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, described Johnson’s decision as a “smash and grab on our democracy in order to force through a no-deal exit.” Other party leaders including Anna Soubry, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon have also voiced their disapproval of the suspension.

Paul Davies, Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, backed Boris, advocating that “as this is a new Government with a new Prime Minister it is appropriate that a Queen’s Speech takes place so that the Government can set out its priorities. This is the normal Parliamentary process and if the UK Government didn’t do it then opponents would soon complain if it wasn’t done.” Cabinet members such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Conservative loyalists have also come out in support of the Prime Minister, with Rees-Mogg reiterating that it is a “completely proper constitutional procedure.”

“With a new Prime Minister it is appropriate that a Queen’s Speech takes place so that the Government can set out its priorities.”

Boris Johnson has defended his decision arguing that the Government will not wait until October 31 before getting on with our plans to take our country forward and this is a new government with a very exciting agenda.”  Johnson has denied that the action was to force through a no-deal Brexit, justifying it instead as an opportunity to “bring forward an ambitious new legislative programme for MPs’ approval.”

As the Brexit deadline of October 31 approaches, each political decision bears greater weight; and although the decision to hold a Queen’s Speech is constitutionally general procedure, the context of the decision certainly is contentious.


*Commentary from the Cardiff protest by Charlotte King.

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