A concise guide to the prorogation of parliament
By Navjot Lehl
The government, led by prime minister and arch-Brexiter Boris Johnson announced that he had been granted permission by the Queen to suspend – or prorogue – parliament for a crucial five week period before 31 October, when Britain is due to leave the European Union. The move, it has been argued by MPs leaves little time for parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit as initially planned. But what does Proroguing mean?
It involves the formal end of the parliamentary session. Parliament stands prorogued between the end of one session and the state opening of Parliament which marks the beginning of a new session. The Queen is politically neutral and could have rejected the Prime Minister’s request, but doing so would have caused an even bigger crisis.
Although prorogation has been used several times in the past decades, Johnsons’s announcement to call one is extraordinary for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is absolutely normal when you have a Queen’s speech to move one session of Parliament to the next. And the prorogation normally lasts for a few days. However, in the last 40 years, the longest prorogation has been three weeks, but what is being proposed by Johnson is up to five weeks, which in itself, is astonishing.
Secondly, it is being proposed in the middle of Brexit, a huge political crisis which is rapidly becoming a constitutional crisis, and taking up precious weeks in the time when Parliament will not be able to scrutinise the government.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister has only faced parliament for one day before MPs departed for their summer recess, and in that five week break, he has not been held to account for his future policies. At the root of our political constitution is the principle that the government is accountable to Parliament. So, there is no surprise why the reaction to this has been (to say the least) apoplectic, as was expressed by the speaker of the house, John Bercow, leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn and protestors outside Parliament.