The extreme measure would be profoundly undemocratic but has been floated by Conservative leadership candidatesby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / June 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
Given the current parliamentary opposition to a no-deal Brexit, some have argued that the government should prorogue parliament (ie suspend it) for a short period, so MPs could not prevent a 31st October exit. Indeed Tory leadership candidate Dominic Raab recently stated that he was ready to prorogue parliament, while fellow candidate Esther McVey argued that prorogation was part of her possible “toolkit.” At first sight this seems undemocratic in the extreme. But could it actually happen? The short answer is: it’s complicated.
It is characteristic of Brexit that it has required everyone to sharpen their (usually somewhat vague) knowledge of the British constitution. Formerly arcane and little understood practices such as humble addresses now seem part of our daily fare. Prorogation though is not something we expected the public to have to become accustomed to.
Although under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, parliaments are required to serve a fixed-term of five years (unless under specified circumstances an early election takes place) parliament does not sit all that time. It is divided into sessions that usually last one year (although currently two on account of Brexit). Prorogation is the formal term for the period between the end of one parliamentary session and the start of the next. In contrast to dissolution, prorogation is a personal prerogative power formally in the hands of the monarch, but exercised on the advice of ministers. Crucially, the consent of MPs is not required.
In the usual course of events, prorogation is unremarkable. But nothing is usual with Brexit, and what those such as Raab have in mind is a use of prorogation to suspend parliament altogether for their own political purposes, even if only for a short time. In these circumstances, prorogation takes on an abusive, undemocratic mantel—one thinks of Charles I, who also prorogued parliament.
But could such prorogation happen constitutionally? Another leadership candidate, Rory Stewart, suggested that Raab’s position was “profoundly offensive to our liberty, constitution and tradition,” while Speaker John Bercow stated that “Parliament will not be evacuated from the centre stage of the decision-making process on this important matter.”
Yet, presently the default position, under Article 50, is that the UK will leave the EU on 31st October. Unless anything further happens, Brexit will take place, regardless of how many MPs oppose leaving with no deal. This is why prorogation is…