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Parliament suspension: 21st century constitutional coup over Brexit in UK

By INWALOMHE DONALD

THE process of suspension of parliament can only be described as a coup, albeit one without the use of tanks and guns, the entire matter was pre-planned and unconstitutional.

British parliament
Borish Johnson UK PM

Boris Johnson is acting contrary to all norms of transparency, decency, democracy and good governance, and contrary to the constitution which he swore to uphold and defend.

The United Kingdom Parliament will be suspended just days after MPs return to work in September – and only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline. It’s outrageous that those who argued leaving the EU would enhance United Kingdom’s parliamentary sovereignty are now seeking to shut it down because they can’t muster a majority. These are the actions of a dictator – a prime minister without any democratic mandate for his actions. Johnson has never faced the public in an election and can’t even command a parliamentary majority now.

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If Boris Johnson is confident that the British people support his no-deal disaster, then he should call a general election without further delay. However, organising what is effectively a coup to get it over the line is completely unacceptable. Without democracy and upholding parliamentary sovereignty, Boris Johnson is turning back the clock on everything that has made Britain great. I predict that if he succeeds in closing down parliamentary democracy at such a crucial time in the Brexit timetable, civil disobedience will follow.

Indeed, the whole set of circumstances suggest not the way a change of Brexit ought to occur in a democracy, but the sharp practices associated with a constitutional coup, which is likely to lead to a constitutional crisis. It is a constitutional coup because Boris Johnson must demonstrate that he has the confidence of parliament through the support of a majority of MPs, and force the people to accept the will of parliament. If not the crisis will not be resolved. Only time will tell what long-term damage this will do to the United Kingdom’s constitutional fabric.

Boris Johnson said a Queen’s Speech would take place after the suspension on October 14, to outline his “very exciting agenda”. Shocked by the reckless move to suspend parliament to deliver an extreme Brexit for which there is no mandate, it is worth noting that taking a wrecking ball to the constitution by suspending parliament to avoid scrutiny, is no way to uphold democracy.

It will work on a cross party basis to stop no deal. Suspending parliament to prevent the expression of the will of elected representatives is what autocrats and dictators do. This attempted coup against democracy to impose a no deal Brexit cannot be allowed to stand.

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Parliament is normally suspended – or prorogued – for a short period before a new session begins. It is done by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister. Parliamentary sessions normally last a year, but the current one has been going on for more than two years – ever since the June 2017 election. When Parliament is prorogued, no debates and votes are held – and most laws that haven’t completed their passage through parliament die.

This is different to “dissolving” parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election. The last two times parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech which was not after a general election lasted for four and 13 working days, respectively. If this prorogation happens as expected, it will see parliament closed for 23 working days. MPs have to approve recess dates, but they cannot block prorogation. But it means the time MPs have to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on October 31 would be cut.

Even if the legality of the procedure and the clarity and meaning of the relevant constitutional provisions can be debated, the fact that the event was planned in complete secrecy, with no consultation of parliament or giving the serving prime minister and Cabinet the courtesy of even a short prior intimation before the course of action was made public, that it was suddenly carried out and that it has taken the country by total surprise, point to some extremely questionable motives.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a “constitutional outrage”. The Speaker, who does not traditionally comment on political announcements, continued: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of (suspending parliament) now would be to stop (MPs) debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”

Jeremy Corbyn said: “Suspending parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the prime minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal”. He said when MPs return to the Commons next Tuesday, “the first thing we’ll do is attempt legislation to prevent what (the PM) is doing”, followed by a vote of no confidence “at some point”.

Legal precedent and challenge: Shutting down Parliament – known as prorogation – happens after the prime minister advises the Queen to do it. The decision to do it now is highly controversial because opponents say it would stop MPs being able to play their full democratic part in the Brexit process.

A number of high profile figures, including former Prime Minister John Major, have threatened to go to the courts to stop it, and a legal challenge led by the SNP’s justice spokeswoman, Joanna Cherry, is already working its way through the Scottish courts. After the announcement, Sir John said he had “no doubt” Mr. Johnson’s motive was to “bypass a sovereign parliament that opposes his policy on Brexit”, and he would continue to seek legal advice.

Donald, a public affairs analyst, wrote via  inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com

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