Suspension of Parliament: August 2019

Thursday 29 August 2019

To listen to the hysteria in the news about the suspension of Parliament one might think that something unusual, unconstitutional or undemocratic has just happened. In fact, the announcement of a suspension followed by a Queen’s Speech is usual and expected, perfectly constitutional and subject to the democratic approval of all MPs.

Every year, for much of September, Parliament shuts down in order to enable MPs to attend their party conferences. It is happening again this year - as per normal - and despite the confected howls of amazement from some party leaders, all of them have already arranged their party conferences in September. None were cancelled. Clearly nobody expected Parliament to be meeting after the second week of September or in the first week of October. It never does.

About once a year, or whenever there is a new Prime Minister, Parliament is prorogued for a few days to enable a Queen’s Speech to take place. This is when the government outlines its new legislative programme. Parliament has not prorogued for around two years and a new Prime Minister has taken over. A Queen’s Speech was therefore expected - and indeed arguably overdue.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement yesterday that Parliament will prorogue for a few extra days and return on Monday 14 October, instead of Tuesday 8 October (an extra four working days), should come as no surprise. It is neither unprecedented nor unconstitutional. In fact, it would be completely out of the ordinary for Parliament to meet during the party conference season and for a new Prime Minister not to hold a Queen’s Speech. 

The idea that we should delay the Queen’s Speech because Parliament “needs more time to debate Brexit” is frankly absurd. Parliament has spent virtually every day for over three years discussing Brexit. Arguably Parliament has discussed very little else besides Brexit. There is nothing that could be discussed over four days in October that won’t already have been discussed on numerous occasions. 

Contrary to the wilder rhetoric from some MPs about a “coup”, none of this can happen if MPs do not want it to. We live in a democracy and if a majority of MPs are unhappy, then they can bring down the government by tabling a motion of no-confidence. If the government lost, they would have two weeks to regain the confidence of Parliament or be forced to hold a general election. This is set out in legislation which all MPs are familiar with. 

I have been predicting since late spring that the government will probably lose a motion of no-confidence in September and MPs will force a general election. I am still reasonably certain that this will happen, although the leaders of the opposition parties cannot seem to work together or agree to vote for each other’s confidence motions. This of course is a problem for them not me! I imagine they will get their act together at some point in the next fortnight and an election will follow. 

In the 2016 EU referendum, a majority voted for Brexit. In the 2017 general election, a majority voted for MPs who stood on manifestos promising to implement Brexit. In the 2019 European elections, a majority voted yet again for parties who claimed they were pro-Brexit. Boris’ statement shows his commitment to upholding democracy in this country. It is those who are trying to prevent a Queen’s Speech, trying to pretend that the party conference suspension has never happened, and trying to prevent Brexit from taking place who need to explain themselves.

The Prime Minister has my complete support.