What Happens Now Parliament Is Suspended

Prorogation finally happened on Monday night. Here's exactly what that means for politics.

by Simon Childs
10 September 2019, 11:37am

Labour MPs protest as Parliament is prorogued (Photo via Stephen Morgan MP's Twitter)

Parliament’s final sitting before its five week prorogation ended in uproar on Monday night, as Labour members protested the cancelling of Parliament – another spectacle added to the highlights reel of Britain looking increasingly like a failed state.

When prorogation was announced last month, Labour MP Clive Lewis warned: “The police will have to remove us from the chamber. We will call on people to take to the streets. We will call an extraordinary session of Parliament.”

There was no such militant sleep-over in the end, but a group of left-wing Labour Remain MPs led a symbolic protest. They shouted “no!” as proceedings got under way and held up banners saying “silenced”.

MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle briefly lay across the Speaker’s chair in order to stop him leaving. “It was based on the 1629 event, where MPs pinned the Speaker to his seat in an attempt to prevent the prorogation of Parliament,” tweeted Clive Lewis, explaining why even Parliament’s more rebellious acts have to be weird and arcane.

As Tory MPs left the chamber, Labour members cried “shame on you”. Speaker John Bercow remarked that prorogation looks like “an act of executive fiat”.

It was the dramatic end to a day in which Parliament had spent the day seemingly determined to make sure that nobody would mourn its loss if Dominic Cummings installed a military Junta.

Take, for instance, Theresa May’s resignation honours list. She chose to give parting gongs to 26 of her former advisors, three party donors and her head chef, who will all now get to sit in the House of Lords. This act of arch cronyism brought to you by a politician who used to consider herself opposed to the posh Westminster chumocracy.

In the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn’s speech during a debate on an early election was marked by a cacophony of Tory braying, as if the whole thing was some sort of Oxbridge society initiation ritual.

Earlier in the day, Speaker John Bercow had announced that he would stand down when the election happens. There followed a wretched 90 minutes of sycophantic tributes from MPs to the Speaker, who returned the favour in a nauseating Parliamentary circle-jerk. No one bothered to mention the accusations of abuse and bullying against him.

It was enough to remind you why, in normal times, almost nobody is holding up Parliament as a paragon of democracy. But we are where we are: Parliament is suspended for five weeks now so that the government can avoid scrutiny, and that sucks. While it's easy to mock the braying and brown-nosing, it's better than what we're going to get now, which is a Parliament shut up by a Prime Minister running scared from basic democratic oversight.

At least Boris Johnson can take a break from all this losing. He has now lost six votes in Parliament in about as many days.

Defeat number five was over Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s no-deal planning documents. By 311 to 302 votes, Parliament voted for the government to release some of those documents.

This could prove to be one spicy meat-a-bol, as it also required the publication of communications, “including but not limited to messaging services including WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook messenger, private email accounts both encrypted and unencrypted, text messaging and iMessage and the use of both official and personal mobile phones” and specifically names the government figures whose chats are to be made available.

So not only is it likely to show up the government’s laissez-fair attitude to crashing out with no deal, there could also be some embarrassment as Dominic Cummings bitching about Dominic Grieve (or whoever) in the group chat becomes public knowledge. How long can it be before government advisors start communicating through some under-the-radar app used only by wavey teenagers?

Yellowhammer probably won’t change the wider picture, though. There have been three years of experts making dire predictions about Brexit which hasn’t shifted the dial all that much. It seems unlikely that the resulting I-told-you-sos will change the opinions of many Brexiteers. And of course, Johnson has saved himself the hassle of actually answering to Parliament on any of it.

Defeat number six came as Johnson failed to get a sufficient majority for an early election, again. Once again Johnson called the opposition chicken, once again they didn’t take the bait of an election on Johnson’s terms. There was something weird about watching a Prime Minister who was about to shut down Parliament to avoid scrutiny lambasting the Opposition for not fulfilling its constitutional duty to oppose him by doing what he wanted.

So what happens now?

The immediate question is what Johnson does about his duty to ask the EU for a Brexit extension, which he has said he would rather “die in a ditch” than do.

Failure to do so would be breaking the law, and we could technically even see Johnson go to prison. That would certainly furnish his Brexit martyr credentials, and maybe he could get some tips on using a stint banged up to further your career from Tommy Robinson, who is apparently now a huge fan.

Realistically, an Etonian like Johnson wouldn’t last five minutes in prison and an alternative will have to be found.

On Monday the government briefed the Times that it would obey the law by asking for the extension, while briefing the Telegraph that it would try and weasel out of it by simultaneously sending another letter saying that actually, it didn’t want an extension after all.

One possibility being touted is that Johnson will resign as Prime Minister, handing the government to a caretaker who would then be forced to ask the EU for an extension. That caretaker – say Jeremy Corbyn – could then be painted as a traitor. Then you’d have an election in which Johnson would play the man of principle who stuck to his word and refused to kowtow to the Brussels mafia vs. a spineless Remainer Corbyn.

The earliest an election can happen now is 22nd November, and everything that happens from here on in should be viewed as electioneering.

If you think it couldn't get worse you obviously haven't been paying attention for the last couple of years. This week’s dystopian vision of the future comes in the form of Nigel Farage touting an election non-aggression pact with the Tories, which Farage reckons could deliver them up to 100 seat majority. Chancellor Sajid Javid repeatedly refused to rule this out on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. So that's the prospect of a race-baiting party leader beloved of the far-right... teaming up with Nigel Farage to drive us off a cliff.

On the plus side, it looks like Johnson is not the political dynamite that the Tories had assumed, and his shit-show of a week has dented his popularity. He's trying to present himself as the voice of the people but prorogation may have been a bridge too far for a politician trying to claim the mantle of democracy.

With Parliament shut down, Britain is entering what is essentially a lengthy campaign for an election we all know is coming, and the stakes are pretty high.