Saturday 21 September 2019

Boris Johnson denies seeking to prevent UK parliament from obstructing his Brexit plans

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

David Milliken and William James

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he would schedule a Queen's Speech for October 14 in order to launch new legislation and he denied he was seeking to prevent parliament from obstructing his Brexit plans

"We need to get on with our domestic agenda and that is why we are announcing a Queen's Speech for October 14," Johnson said in a television interview broadcast.

Asked about criticism from members of parliament that they were being denied time to debate and vote on Brexit, Johnson said: "That is completely untrue. If you look at what we're doing, we're bring forward a new legislative programme.

"There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 (European Union leaders') summit, ample time in parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues, ample time."

Fianna Fail has said that the Government must ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit in the wake of the latest political chaos in Westminster.

The party's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers has expressed alarm at the latest developments.

She told Independent.ie: "It is really concerning to see British politics further disintegrate as we approach the Brexit deadline of October 31."

Ms Chambers said: "If Prime Minister Johnson seeks to suspend parliament for over a month, to resume just three days before the next EU council meeting, this will only serve to further deepen the divide in British politics and move us further away from getting a Brexit deal done."

She added: "The UK, like Ireland, is a parliamentary democracy. For this to function and serve its citizens properly, MPs should have adequate time in parliament to debate Brexit in its final stages.

"The idea this would not happen I imagine is deeply upsetting for MPs and many citizens in the U.K. Clearly our own domestic preparations must be ramped up by government as a no deal Brexit now seems very likely," she added.

Ms Chambers accused the government of failing to "clearly outline what a no deal Brexit will look like". 

She said: "Farmers and exporters have been left in the lurch and have been unable to get a straight answer when they ask where the border checks be if a no deal comes to pass.

"The government has simply not been open with its plans leaving individuals and businesses facing a no deal Brexit unable to properly prepare. In fact, a new report out today has found that fewer than one in five Irish SMEs say they are prepared for Brexit," she added.

Ms Chambers said she also wants to know the European Commission's position on the government's proposal to have customs checks away from the border, and where it believes these checks should be placed.

"What we need from government now is transparency. This has been severely lacking and with just over two months to go until a possible crash out by the UK, this is simply no longer acceptable", Ms Chambers said.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has called for the Dáil to be recalled early by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar due to what he said is an "evolving Brexit crisis".

He said: "As it stands the Dáil is due to return on September 17, by which time the House of Commons will already have been prorogued with an increasing likelihood of a 'No deal Brexit' . 

"We cannot control the increasingly fraught developments in Westminster but we should have the Dáil in session to make sure that our response is debated in full."

Mr Ryan said his party will be advancing its own proposals on what needs to be done in consultation with Green colleagues in the UK and Europe.

He also said: "I believe the Irish Government's position has been strengthened by the solidarity that has been shown across the Oireachtas. 

"Returning earlier in September would be an important recognition of the scale of the crisis we all face."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that Mr Johnson's move "demonstrates his clear intent to force through a no-deal Brexit, regardless of the consequences for Ireland; north or south."

She argued that: "It shows the arrogance of the British government and their contempt even for their own political institutions and it is very clear that Irish interests will never be protected at Westminster."

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament was "an outrage and a threat to our democracy".

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said "it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country", calling it a "constitutional outrage".

Earlier, a UK government source said Johnson, who has vowed to take Britain out of the EU without a divorce deal if necessary, plans to set an October 14 date for the Queen's Speech - the formal state opening of a new session of parliament.

That would effectively shut parliament from mid-September for around a month and reduces the parliamentary time in which lawmakers could try to block a no-deal Brexit.

While suspending parliament ahead of a Queen's Speech is the historical norm in Britain, the decision to limit parliamentary scrutiny weeks before the country's most contentious policy decision in decades prompted an immediate outcry.

Sterling fell sharply, losing around a cent against the U.S. dollar and the euro, as investors took the news as a sign that a no-deal Brexit, and the prospect of a hit to Britain's economy, was more likely.

"This action is an utterly scandalous affront to our democracy," Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said on Twitter. "We cannot let this happen."

On Tuesday, lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit met to discuss ways they could use parliamentary procedure to force Johnson to seek a delay to Brexit.

According to the BBC, a meeting about the government's move to limit parliamentary time was due to take place at Queen Elizabeth's Scottish summer residence in Balmoral on Wednesday.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said senior ministers would hold a conference call on Wednesday.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, said Wednesday would go down as a "dark one indeed for UK democracy" unless politicians join forces next week to stop the prime minister.

Parliament returns from its summer break on Sept. 3 and had been expected to sit for two weeks before breaking up again to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences. Typically it begins sitting again in early October.

The source said Johnson would set an Oct. 14 date for the Queen's Speech - the formal state opening of a new session of parliament at which Queen Elizabeth reads a speech prepared by the government, setting out a legislative agenda for the coming year.

A Queen's Speech on Oct. 14 would delay parliament's return, and leave lawmakers with just over two weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31.

Reuters

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