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What Did Boris Johnson Just Do to Parliament?

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Wednesday cut short the time lawmakers have to debate his Brexit plans, announcing that he had asked the queen to suspend Parliament days after lawmakers return to work from a break, and just weeks before a looming Brexit deadline.

The move, which limits legislative time before Britain’s planned Oct. 31 withdrawal from the European Union, drew immediate criticism from the opposition — and some lawmakers within Mr. Johnson’s own Conservative Party — and caused the British pound to plunge.

So what exactly does the move, known as proroguing Parliament, actually mean for the government and the critical decision-making in the weeks leading up to the deadline? And how could it affect Britain’s exit from Europe?

Here’s what you need to know.

What happens next for lawmakers?

Most significantly, Mr. Johnson’s Wednesday move has changed the time frame for decision-making on Britain’s scheduled exit from the bloc. But members of Parliament will still return from their current summer break next week, as planned, on Tuesday.

Parliament will still meet during the first two weeks of September, and it was already expected to break for up to three weeks for annual political party conferences. Lawmakers had then been scheduled to reconvene around Oct. 9.

But now the clock has started ticking, and fast.

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Before Boris Johnson’s latest move,

Parliament had about five weeks in session to debate a Brexit deal.

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But Mr. Johnson introduced a new parliamentary

session and delayed the return of lawmakers, leaving

less than three weeks until the Brexit deadline.

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introduced

during these two weeks

will not carry over

into the new session

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Before Boris Johnson’s latest move,

Parliament had about five weeks in session to debate a Brexit deal.

Sept.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Parliament

returns

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

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Break for party

conferences

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Oct.

Parliament

scheduled

to return

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E.U. summit

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Britain leaves

the E.U.

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But Mr. Johnson introduced a new parliamentary

session and delayed the return of lawmakers, leaving less than three weeks until the

Brexit deadline.

Sept.

Brexit legislation

introduced

during these two

weeks will not

carry over into

the new session

1

2

3

4

5

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9

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Oct.

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New session,

queen’s speech

and debates

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

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22

23

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25

26

Britain leaves

the E.U.

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By Allison McCann

The new five-week suspension period — or prorogation — announced on Wednesday includes the three weeks when lawmakers already anticipated being in recess, but now they won’t return until Oct. 14, when a new parliamentary session will begin.

A new session of Parliament begins with a speech by the queen setting out the government’s proposed legislation for the period, which is then debated over several days, consuming further time that lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit could have used to try to tie Mr. Johnson’s hands.

The decision to end one parliamentary session and start a new one also deprives lawmakers of the power to cut short their break, further tightening the timetable. And if rebel lawmakers don’t succeed in passing legislation by the end of the current session, they will have to start the process all over again after Oct. 14.

These all amount to the key result of Mr. Johnson’s decision: less time for lawmakers to chart their own path toward a deal for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

ImageCreditKirsty Wigglesworth/Associated PressWhat does it mean to prorogue Parliament?

Prorogation is the period of time between when a parliamentary session ends (bringing all decision-making to an end) and when the next session begins. It requires assent from the monarch, though this has been considered a formality for more than a century, according to parliamentary officials.

In this case, Queen Elizabeth II gave her approval for Parliament to cease operation from no earlier than Sept. 9 and no later than Sept. 12 until Oct. 14.

[Bold move or coup? Social media erupts, and even the queen is not spared.]

The process usually lasts for a shorter period of time than the stretch that was just announced, and a new session begins with a speech by the queen to lawmakers.

Votes and debates halt until the new session. But unlike when Parliament is dissolved — the procedure followed before a general election — the government remains free to act and lawmakers keep their seats.

The current parliamentary session began in June 2017, making it the longest in nearly 400 years, a point that Mr. Johnson made mention of in his letter outlining the decision to bring this session to a close.

ImageCreditPool photo by Stefan RousseauWhat is the queen’s role in all of this?

While the power to prorogue Parliament rests with the queen, who officially declares it is being suspended, the process happens on the request of the prime minister.

In modern times, when asked, the queen has always obliged. And she did again in this case. The situation is a reflection of an unwritten rule of Britain’s political system: The monarch remains removed from politics.

With Brexit Gambit, Boris Johnson Reveals a Ruthless SideAug. 28, 2019What Is Brexit? What Does ‘No-Deal’ Mean?Jan. 24, 2019Boris Johnson’s ‘Explosive’ Move to Get His Way on Brexit: Suspend ParliamentAug. 28, 2019ImageCreditJessica Taylor/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIs this a constitutional crisis?

Politicians disagree on this one.

Some senior political figures suggest that Mr. Johnson’s move could be challenged in the courts, including former Prime Minister John Major. In a statement to the BBC on Wednesday, Mr. Major said he was seeking legal advice.

“I have no doubt that the prime minister’s motive in seeking prorogation is to bypass a sovereign Parliament that opposes his policy,” he said. “As events unfold I will continue to seek advice on the legality of this and other matters.”

John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has also responded fiercely, issuing a statement that denounced Mr. Johnson’s decision as a “constitutional outrage” that would “undermine his democratic credentials.”

Others say Mr. Johnson is acting well within his powers.

Crucially, that group includes Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, whose lawmakers Mr. Johnson’s government depends on to win parliamentary votes.

She said that she welcomed the decision, adding that a new session of Parliament would be “an opportunity to ensure our priorities align with those of the government.”

Does this mean there will be a no-deal Brexit?

Again, this is unclear. The shortened time frame raises the risk that Britain could potentially crash out of Europe without an agreement, which economists say would be chaotic and economically damaging.

Parliament, which has struggled to agree on anything since the 2016 referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union that saw the country vote in favor of severing ties, seems relatively unified behind the idea that Britain exiting without a deal would be harmful.

The failure of the former prime minister, Theresa May, to pass an agreement for an orderly departure through Parliament ultimately led to her downfall. But Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said that he is willing to leave the European Union with or without an agreement, though he would prefer to have one.

A meeting of the European Council — set for Oct. 17 and 18 — seems to be the one window of opportunity in this new timeline for Mr. Johnson to secure a deal.

If he does return with an agreement, the tight timetable could help him force it through, by leaving lawmakers with a choice between his deal and a no-deal Brexit.

Could this lead to an early election?

The Brexit clash could persuade Mr. Johnson or the opposition to try to force a snap election, either before the Oct. 31 deadline — though time is running short — or after.

Each party will act depending on how it thinks an election would change its strength in Parliament and affect its chances of getting its desired Brexit result. Polls show the Conservatives leading, sometimes by wide margins.

Mr. Johnson could try to call a snap election, and people close to him have repeatedly said that he might do so, to strengthen a government that currently struggles to win some key votes. But that would require the approval of two-thirds of the House of Commons, meaning a significant number of opposition lawmakers would have to agree.

Mr. Johnson’s government already has an incredibly tenuous hold on power, and the controversial move to suspend Parliament could backfire. Several members of his own Conservative Party have already denounced it.

Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader, could try to force an election by calling a vote of no confidence in the prime minister and his government, but he has been cagey about whether and when he might do so.

A no-confidence vote requires only a simple majority, but some Conservatives would have to vote against their own leader for Mr. Corbyn to achieve even that. The law then gives Mr. Johnson 14 days after a vote of no confidence to try to get the house to reverse itself.

Parliament could take either vote as early as next week, and the minimum period to prepare for an election is five weeks. That means an October election is still a possibility.

A pre-Brexit election would give Mr. Johnson a chance to take advantage of Mr. Corbyn’s unpopularity, and to rally supporters of the withdrawal by telling them that if the Conservatives lose, Brexit will never happen.

Mr. Johnson might want to postpone an election until after Halloween in order to neutralize the threat from the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage. But if predictions that a no-deal Brexit would wreak havoc on the economy prove correct, then waiting might benefit opposing parties.

Stephen Castle and Peter Robins contributed reporting.

SOURCE : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/world/europe/british-parliament-suspended.html

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