British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparked fury Wednesday among pro-Europeans and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit by successfully seeking the suspension of parliament weeks before Britain’s EU departure date.
The pound slid on the surprise news, which opponents branded a “coup” and a “declaration of war”, but Johnson claimed was necessary to allow him to pursue a “bold and ambitious” new domestic legislative agenda.
It came a day after six opposition parties vowed to seek legislative changes to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Queen Elizabeth II approved the request to end what has been the longest session of parliament in nearly 400 years, in the second week of September, and reopen it on October 14 — just over two weeks before Brexit.
Several hundred people gathered near parliament in London on Wednesday evening, with further protests planned in other cities across the country. More than 600,000 people also signed an online petition decrying parliament’s suspension.
“Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the government’s overall programme, and approach to Brexit,” Johnson, who leads the Conservative party, vowed in a letter to MPs.
However, his decision incensed lawmakers vehemently against a no-deal Brexit on October 31 as they will now have less time than expected to try to thwart such a scenario.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, denounced the move as “a smash-and-grab against democracy” and reiterated he would call a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government, which commands a majority of just one seat.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond also pledged to keep fighting against no deal.
“It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis,” he said.
-‘Blind Brexit’ –
US President Donald Trump weighed into the row by praising Johnson as “great” and claiming it would be “very hard” for Corbyn to try to topple him in a no-confidence vote.
The Labour leader shot back at Trump on Twitter, saying Johnson was “a compliant Prime Minister who will hand Britain’s public services and protections over to US corporations in a free trade deal”.
In the seismic 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership, 52 per cent voted in favour of leaving the bloc, a result that has left parliament and the country bitterly divided.
Johnson insists Britain must leave on the October 31 deadline — already twice-delayed — with or without a divorce deal from Brussels.
Parliament has rejected three times the withdrawal agreement struck between Brussels and the government of Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May.
Opposition lawmakers called it a “blind Brexit” while eurosceptics objected to a so-called “backstop” provision to keep the Irish border under in all circumstances which would have kept Britain closely aligned with the EU.
Johnson wants the EU to drop the backstop measure entirely — something Brussels has repeatedly ruled out.
The government’s chief Brexit adviser David Frost was in Brussels for talks on Wednesday, but an EU summit on October 17-18 will likely determine whether there is any scope for any compromise.
Otherwise Britain will ends its four decades of membership without a deal governing future trade relations and citizens rights.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday accused Johnson of acting like a “tinpot dictator” by pushing through an “outrageous assault on basic democratic principles”.
Meanwhile, Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader in Scotland, was set to resign on Thursday in part due to opposition to Johnson’s hardline Brexit strategy, according to reports.
More than 70 parliamentarians have launched a fast-track legal bid at the highest civil court in Scotland, aimed at preventing Johnson from suspending parliament.
– ‘Outrage’ –
Parliament typically goes into recess again around the annual party conference season, which kicks off on September 14 and ends on October 2.
John Bercow, the speaker of parliament’s lower House of Commons, who was not forewarned about Johnson’s suspension decision, labelled it a “constitutional outrage”.
“It is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit,” he said.
The pound slumped more than one percent at one stage, but shares rose as London-listed multinationals stand to gain from a weaker currency.
Johnson’s move “certainly caught markets off-guard”, noted Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.
Robert Craig, a constitutional expert at Durham University, said there was “theoretically absolutely nothing wrong” with the suspension, noting it was normal for a new leader to start a fresh parliamentary session.
“But the reason that it is causing outrage is because it’s reducing the number of available days for parliament to stop a no-deal.”