The government’s highly controversial move to suspend parliament has narrowed the options for rebel MPsby Hannah White / August 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
Today’s announcement that the Queen has agreed to the government’s request to prorogue parliament, during the second week of its September sitting until the middle of October, signals Boris Johnson’s determination to prevent MPs meddling in its Brexit plans.
The significance of prorogation is twofold. First, it has taken the decision about whether to sit in September and October out of MPs’ hands. There had been indications that the government might not have won the normal Commons vote on the dates of a “conference recess” usually held over the second half of September and early October. By asking for a prorogation, the government has ensured that parliamentarians won’t be around to stick inconvenient spanners (like legislation preventing a no-deal exit) in the wheels of the Brexit train. This is one thing that makes the move so controversial.
The second advantage of prorogation, from the government’s perspective, is the fact that legislation which has not completed all of its stages in both Houses of parliament falls at the moment of suspension. The government may seek the agreement of the opposition parties to “carry over” some of its Brexit bills to the next session, to save introducing them all over again—although in a bad tempered parliamentary climate they might not agree. But no such mechanism will be on offer for any backbench-sponsored legislation designed to avoid no deal.
This means that MPs who want to legislate to compel the prime minister to request an Article 50 extension if parliament has not explicitly authorised a no deal exit, will now find the parliamentary time available to do so extremely limited. There could be as few as four sitting days available before prorogation takes place. The Cooper Bill passed in March took five.
In the time available the MPs will have to persuade the speaker to grant them an emergency debate, use that debate to take control of the parliamentary agenda, use that control to introduce a bill and get that bill through all of its Commons and Lords stages. Getting the bill through the Lords may prove harder than in March as there will be no help from the government to close down filibustering peers. If all of these stages are not complete by prorogation the bill will fall. If they wanted to try again in October they would be starting from scratch.