Saturday 21 September 2019

Explainer: What has Boris Johnson just done - and what does it mean for Ireland?

Is Ireland heading for chaos in 64 days' time?

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend the UK parliament was approved by the Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend the UK parliament was approved by the Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today 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.

What happened today?

The queen granted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to suspend or prorogue the UK parliament from mid-September for five weeks. When MPs return on October 14 for the Queen’s Speech there will be just over two weeks to Brexit.

Why did he request this?

Mr Johnson said he doesn’t want to wait until after Brexit to get on with his policy plans. The Queen’s Speech is the official opening of parliament where the queen reads out a prepared speech on the government’s legislative agenda. In typical British style it is an ostentatious ceremonial affair at Westminster which, unusually, hasn’t happened since June 2017 - the longest in the modern era.

Is this really about Brexit?

Of course. Mr Johnson’s decision has prompted outrage as it restricts the time MPs have to debate Brexit and stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal. Mr Johnson insists there will be ample opportunity to do this before October 31. But shutting down parliament for five weeks, a length of time unprecedented in the modern era, is a patently provocative move. Commons speaker John Bercow said it was a “constitutional outrage”. 

So what’s going to happen now?

A cross-party alliance of MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit, including the main opposition party Labour, had hoped to table a series of motions in parliament to derail Mr Johnson from proceeding with plans to leave the EU unless he gets a deal (something that has looked unlikely). But now their time is extremely limited. So MPs are more likely to move a motion of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government as early as next week. They stand a strong chance of winning given the PM has a majority of just one in the House of Commons. In that scenario a new government will have to be formed or a general election called.

But doesn’t Boris just want an election?

Many suspect he does and that this audacious move is about goading his opponents into triggering an election. If he wins an outright majority he could then deliver the Brexit he wants without having to rely on support from the DUP and hard Brexiteeers who are insisting he ditches the backstop or the Brexit deal entirely. Mr Johnson could also tell the EU he wants new Brexit talks because he has a fresh mandate from the people.

What will the EU say to that?

The EU is unlikely to countenance renegotiation of the withdrawal deal under any circumstances but an election and a new UK government does change the dynamic.

What about Ireland?

The Irish government continues to argue for the withdrawal agreement and even hopes an election and a new mandate for Mr Johnson would free him to support the deal he has continually rejected. Right now that seems like wishful thinking. So hard Brexit preparations should be intensifying.

Online Editors

Also in Business