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Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament over Brexit sparks outrage

Why Boris Johnson wants to suspend Parliament
02:11

What we're covering here

  • Parliament suspended: The Queen approved Boris Johnson’s request to “prorogue,” or suspend, Parliament just days after it returns from summer recess next week, limiting time for lawmakers to stop a no-deal Brexit.
  • Why this is happening: Johnson is seeking to suspend Parliament so his government can deliver a Queen’s Speech on October 14, which lays out the agenda for the parliamentary session.
  • Tories lose a big name: In a blow to Johnson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson announced her resignation on Thursday – citing both her family and a “conflict” over Brexit.
  • Brexit deadline looms: Britain is set to leave the European Union in 63 days, with Johnson insisting he will not delay the split beyond the October 31 deadline.
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Jeremy Corbyn says he'll try to block Johnson from suspending Parliament

Corbyn in Scotland on Thursday.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to attempt to stop Boris Johnson from proroguing Parliament when the House of Commons returns next week.

“We will be back in Parliament on Tuesday to challenge Boris Johnson on what I think is a smash and grab raid against our democracy,” Corbyn told Sky News, adding Johnson was “trying to suspend Parliament in order to prevent a serious discussion and a serious debate to prevent a no-deal Brexit.”

“What we’re going to do is try to politically stop him on Tuesday with a parliamentary process in order to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit – and also (try) to prevent him from shutting down parliament during this utterly crucial period.”

The Queen could only say yes to Johnson's request

Johnson and the Queen on the day he became Prime Minister.

Queen Elizabeth II had no choice but to accept the prorogation of Parliament request by the government of Boris Johnson, according to former UK Supreme Court Justice Lord Jonathan Sumption on Wednesday.

Speaking to the BBC, he said the Queen was “bound” to take the government’s advice as it commands a majority in the House of Commons.

He added that the relations between the Crown and Parliament are governed by conventions, which are “based on political sentiment, and on the basis that they are binding only in the sense that it would be politically costly to disregard them.”

Sumption also suggested that while Johnson’s move was lawful, it was “being done for a mistaken political motive.”

Nevertheless, he said it wasn’t within a court’s remit to decide between good or bad political motivations, but to decide what was lawful.

Sumption was a Supreme Court Justice from January 2012 until he retired in December 2018.

Veteran Conservative resigns in wake of Johnson's decision

George Young, a Conservative front bench minister in the House of Lords, has resigned over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament.

The former leader of the House of Commons under David Cameron’s government said he was “very unhappy” at the decision to prorogue Parliament. As a Conservative Party minister, Young also served under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

In his resignation letter, seen by CNN and confirmed as genuine by Young, he said Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament risks “undermining” the role of Parliament at a “critical time” in the country’s history.

The Prime Minister has been accused by critics of “constitutional outrage” over the decision to delay re-opening Parliament with a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

The suspension means MPs hoping to prevent a no-deal Brexit have less time to pass any laws that could stop it before October 31.

Young wrote: “As a former leader of the House of Commons in the Coalition Government who restored to the Commons some of the powers it had lost to the Executive, I am very unhappy at the timing and length of the prorogation, and its motivation.

“While not agreeing with the hyperbole of some critics, I have been unpersuaded by the reasons given for that decision, which I believe risks undermining the fundamental role of Parliament at a critical time in our history, and reinforces the view that the government may not have the confidence of the House for its Brexit policy.”

Since moving into 10 Downing Street, Johnson has stepped up plans for a no-deal scenario, saying he would take the UK out of the EU “do or die” on October 31.

Young said in his resignation letter that he believed the “Do or Die” commitment was “rash,” but added: “I am not part of any Remainer plot.”

A petition against suspending Parliament now has 1.4 million signatures

Protests in London on Wednesday.

An online petition demanding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancel his plans to suspend, or “prorogue,” the UK Parliament has reached more than 1.4 million signatures.

The petition was posted on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions page shortly after Wednesday morning’s announcement of the prorogation and has gathered signatories rapidly.

Parliament considers all petitions that exceed 100,000 signatures for a debate, while the government must issue a response after 10,000 signatures.

Protesters also gathered outside Parliament Wednesday evening, with some storming the media pen which was cordoned off by police. Police officers at the scene told CNN that an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 protesters were present.

Meanwhile, in Brussels...

Dutch Foreign Minister Stephen Blok said “serious talks” on Brexit took place in Brussels on Wednesday.

But he warned “we are not there yet” in terms of bridging divides with the UK to prevent a no-deal exit from the European Union.

“It is up to the British Parliament to judge. We still hope it will be possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit and we’re looking forward to any proposals from the British government that fit in to the Withdrawal Agreement,” Blok said, speaking to reporters in Helsinki on Thursday.

Why Ruth Davidson's resignation matters

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called time on an eventful political career which, some had suggested, could eventually have seen her rise to the very top of British politics.

It’s a surprising decision, which Davidson attributed mostly to personal factors – but the timing of her announcement has already raised eyebrows, given Davidson’s longstanding opposition to Boris Johnson’s pursuit of a no-deal Brexit.

And while Johnson may be quietly relieved in the short term to see a critic of his approach step down, Davidson’s decision could spell danger for their party’s prospects north of the border.

That’s because, for years, Davidson has been something of a rarity – a Conservative popular in Scotland.

For generations, the party has struggled to gain traction in the typically more left-leaning country – and its current leader Johnson is especially unpopular in the country, opinion polls have shown.

But Davidson’s socially liberal ideology, her straight-talking manner and her ease in front of cameras made her a respected figure in Scotland, reviving the party’s standing in the country.

That turnaround resulted in a staggering success at the ballot box in 2017, when – bucking the national trend – the Conservatives made impressive gains in Scotland. Under Davidson’s stewardship, the party turned their single Scottish seat in Westminster into 13, taking the wind out of the sails of the rival Scottish National Party.

It also won Davidson the praise of party figures south of the border, many of whom saw her as the answer to winning over younger voters who had flocked towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

There’s also the small matter of Brexit; while England voted comfortably in favor of leaving the European Union, Scotland voted by 62% to 38% to remain – and as the national party moves towards backing a no-deal Brexit, it risks hemorrhaging support in the region without a popular leader.

So while Davidson has boosted the Conservative Party in Scotland, her resignation leaves it in a quandary – and threatens to wreck its progress made in the country under her watch.

Theresa May is back!

Theresa May enjoys a spot of cricket the day after she left her post.

On Twitter, that is.

The former prime minister has sent her first social media post since stepping down over a month ago, paying tribute to Ruth Davidson’s time as Scottish Conservative leader and wishing her some “well-deserved family time” with her partner Jen Wilson and her new son Finn.

Ruth Davidson to Johnson: Get us a deal with the EU

Ruth Davidson has been holding a news conference after announcing she will step down as Scottish Conservatives leader.

“This has been a remarkable time in politics and I will always be thankful for the opportunity to have a front seat as Scottish political history was being made,” she said.

Personal and professional: Davidson called her role in campaigning for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom in 2014 “the most important contribution of my working life.”

She attributes the decision to step down to both “personal and professional” factors, noting the “conflict” she has felt over Brexit – which she opposed, in line with most Scottish voters.

“The biggest change, however, has been starting a family,” she says, adding that the prospect of spending hundreds of hours campaigning “now fills me with dread.”

She confirms she will continue as a Member for the Scottish Parliament until her term ends in 2021, and will “continue to support the party and the Prime Minister.”

What about Brexit? Davidson adds that both the Scottish and Brexit referendums have split opinion across the UK. “The vast majority of people who go into politics do so for the right reasons,” she says. “Respect is what is missing from our debate,” she goes on.

But asked what role Johnson’s pursuit of a no-deal Brexit played in the decision, Davidson says “we had three golden opportunities to support a deal.” She says anti-Brexit MPs “had a goal gaping” but “hit the bar” by not supporting Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Davidson again urges MPs across the aisle to vote for a deal at the fourth attempt, adding that Johnson is attempting to secure a deal. “Let the EU hear you say you will vote” for a deal, she tells MPs.

She says she spoke to Johnson last night, and her message to him is this: “Prime Minister, get us a deal with the European Union.” To lawmakers, she again adds: “For God’s sake, get behind it.”

“I asked him outright, look, I need to know, are you actually trying to get a deal or not,” Davidson says, adding that Johnson “categorically assured me” that he was.

BREAKING: Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson resigns

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has resigned.

In her resignation letter, Davidson wrote: “While I have not hidden the conflict I have felt over Brexit, I have attempted to chart a course for our party which recognises and respects the referendum result, while seeking to maximise opportunities and mitigate risks for key Scottish businesses and sectors.”

Davidson has been an outspoken critic of a no-deal Brexit. But in the rest of her letter, she makes clear that the main driver behind her decision is to spend more time with her family.

“I fear that having tried to be a good leader over the years, I have proved a poor daughter, sister, partner and friend.” Davidson and her partner Jen Wilson welcomed their first child late last year.

What senior Conservatives said about suspending Parliament -- and what they're saying now

Amber Rudd, Johnson's Work and Pensions Secretary.

The issue of proroguing Parliament before the Brexit deadline was first raised during the Conservative leadership contest, when Dominic Raab – now Foreign Secretary – refused to rule out the idea.

It was roundly criticized as undemocratic by a number of his colleagues, many of whom have not been so vocal since Johnson announced he would suspend Parliament on Wednesday.

A reminder – Johnson is not suspending Parliament during the Brexit period, as many Remainers claimed during the contest that he would do, and his plans to close the chamber before a Queen’s Speech are not unusual.

But there is also little doubt that the timing of the move is intended, in large part, to limit the amount of time lawmakers have to legislate against a no-deal Brexit – so it’s worth a refresher on what some of Johnson’s ministers said on the issue of suspending Parliament, as the clock ticks down to Brexit.

Amber Rudd: The former home secretary, and current Work and Pensions Secretary, was once an outspoken opponent of a no-deal Brexit, but she seems to have eased that stance more recently.

Then: In June, Rudd called the suggestion of proroguing Parliament “absolutely outrageous,” “extraordinary” and “ridiculous.”

Now: Rudd ducked questions about Johnson’s decision on Thursday, telling the Press Association: “I’m going to continue to do my job as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.”

Matt Hancock: A rival of Johnson’s in the Conservative leadership election, Hancock was kept in his role as Health Secretary by Johnson.

Then: Hancock said proroguing Parliament “undermines parliamentary democracy.” He added that doing so in order to explicitly pursue a no-deal Brexit “is not a serious policy,” and asked “what kind of message would this send around the world about our values?”

Now: Hancock has been quiet on Twitter and hasn’t made any public statements.

Sajid Javid: Another contender in the Tory leadership race, Javid is now Johnson’s Chancellor.

Then: “You don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy – you can’t just shut down Parliament,” Javid said during the leadership contest. “We are not selecting a dictator of our country, we are selecting a prime minister of our country.”

Now: Javid hasn’t spoken to the media since Johnson suspended Parliament.

Rees-Mogg tells Johnson's critics: Change the law or change the government

Critics of Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for a Queen’s Speech should either change the law or change the government, House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday.

The ardent Brexiteer met with Queen Elizabeth II at her Scottish residence in Balmoral on Wednesday, as one of the three Conservative members of the Queen’s Privy Council, to request the suspension of Parliament on behalf of the Prime Minister, which the Queen approved.

Speaking to the BBC Thursday, he called outrage against Johnson’s move “phony.” 

“All these people who are wailing and gnashing their teeth know that there are two ways of doing what they want to do. One, is to change the government and the other is to change the law,” he dared lawmakers.

Responding to criticism that the move by the Prime Minister is designed to prevent Parliament from debating Brexit, he said some were “crying constitutional wolf” and that if there is an agreement with the EU, Parliament will have 13 days to implement it into UK law. 

Rees-Mogg also criticized Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, after he said Wednesday that the move by the Government was a “constitutional outrage.”

The lawmaker said it wasn’t constitutional for the Speaker to express his opinion without direction of the House and that his comments were in a private capacity. Citing the words of Speaker William Lenthall, an English politician from the 17th century Civil War period, he said: “Mister Speaker has no eyes to see nor tongue to speak unless directed by the House.”

Labour calls for emergency debate on Brexit next week

The opposition Labour Party will seek an emergency parliamentary debate on Brexit next week, its Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said on Thursday.

Speaking to the BBC, Gardiner said Labour will seek measures on Monday under Standing Order No. 24, which allows for “an emergency debate to be called at short notice in the House of Commons on a matter that should have urgent consideration.”

It’s a predictable move from the party, as it scrambles to react to Johnson’s move limiting parliamentary time before Brexit.

Gardiner said the government was “disingenuous” and “lying” about its justifications for suspending Parliament, adding the move was designed to “take the UK out of the EU without a deal” and timed to make it difficult for MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit.

So what *exactly* is going on with Parliament?

Protesters outside Downing Street on Wednesday.

The prospect of Johnson proroguing, or suspending, Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit has struck fear into the heart of Remainers since he was contesting the Conservative leadership election at the beginning of the summer. But this isn’t quite the nightmare scenario they envisaged.

Johnson is not proposing to shut down Parliament immediately before and during the October 31 Brexit deadline, which would essentially have locked them out of the process altogether.

And his move isn’t unusual in itself – Parliament is always suspended before a Queen’s Speech, which marks the start of a new session.

The timetable Johnson has asked for, however, is what’s troubling anti-Brexit MPs. In 2016, Parliament was suspended for just four working days before the Queen’s speech, and in 2014 it was closed for 13 days. This closure will see lawmakers go more than 20 days without debating.

BUT: A recess was already due for party conference season, from which MPs were likely to return in the second week of October. Now, they’ll return in the third week instead. So Johnson’s plan isn’t causing that 20-plus day absence in its entirety – it’s extending a recess by about a week, as the clock ticks down to Brexit.

What Thursday's papers are saying

Johnson’s power move predictably dominates front pages on Thursday – and, depending on which you read, it’s either an unconstitutional outrage or a bold step to uphold the will of the people.

The Brexit-backing Daily Express says “The Die is Cast.” The Daily Telegraph, for which Johnson used to write, takes a similar stance – saying the PM must “give effect to the will of the nation.”

But the left-leaning Daily Mirror says Johnson has been branded a “tinpot dictator” and warns of the effect of a no-deal Brexit on the NHS. The Guardian leads on the “outrage” that met the decision, while The Independent labels the move “The Johnson coup.”

The Times says Johnson “goes for broke” with the move, while the Daily Mail says he’s taken his “gloves off.”

There’s also a decent array of punnery on the tabloids – the Mirror, Metro and City AM all went with the obvious choice (“Prorogue,” “Prorogue state” and “Going Prorogue,” respectively) but The Sun pushed the boat out with “Hey Big Suspender.”

Ultra Brexiteer Rees-Mogg says the Queen didn't have a choice

The arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg gave a long interview to the BBC this morning.

In it, he challenged the idea that the government has put the Queen into an awkward position, dragging her into the middle of the current political chaos by asking her to suspend Parliament.

“The Queen, her Majesty, had no discretion over this, there is no precedent for the Queen refusing a request by her Prime Minister under these circumstances,” he said.

Rees-Mogg is the leader of the House, one of the most vocal proponent of a clean break with the EU and a very, very conservative Conservative. His fondness of big words and traditions has led to his nickname “the honorable member of parliament for the 18th century.”

Speaking to the BBC, he stuck to the government’s official line. The decision to suspend Parliament was not motivated by the desire to give lawmakers less time to block a no-deal Brexit:

So, where are we now?

Good morning from London, where another day of Brexit chaos awaits.

On Wednesday, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook Westminster out of its summer slumber with a shocking announcement – he would ask the Queen to suspend Parliament for a month to allow for a new session to start in mid-October.

It’s par for the course for a new PM to make such a request – in fact, it normally happens every year – but this request is shrouded in controversy because it comes just weeks before the current deadline for Britain to leave the EU.

Remainers reacted with horror to the news, arguing Johnson was shutting down the chamber to stop lawmakers legislating against a no-deal Brexit. But Johnson said MPs will have “ample” time to debate Brexit.

Still, the news has already sparked plenty of protests – and that drama is sure to continue throughout Thursday.

This post has been updated.