Friday 20 September 2019

Explainer: What 'prorogation' means and everything else you need to know about Brexit before this week

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Alexander Britton

MPs will return to Westminster after the summer recess this week - a break which has seen new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his stall on Brexit, opponents planning to avoid a no-deal departure and a cut to Mr Johnson's working majority in the Commons.

Here are some questions you may have before the week kicks off:

How many days to Brexit?

60, if Brexit comes on the latest deadline of October 31.

What happened this week?

Mr Johnson advised the British Queen to prorogue Parliament between September 12 and October 14, with the request given ceremonial approval.

The current Parliamentary session, which started on June 21, 2017 with the last State Opening and Queen's Speech, has been the longest in history and Mr Johnson has said the prorogation will allow him to start anew.

During the suspension, MPs and peers cannot formally debate policy and legislation or make any laws of their own. Parliamentary scrutiny is suspended and the powers of the Houses of Commons and Lords are effectively taken away until the next Queen's Speech.

A petition against the suspension was set up in the aftermath and has gathered more than 1.5 million signatures, while three court proceedings were lodged in the Court of Session, High Court in Northern Ireland and High Court in Westminster.

Protesters took to the streets in towns and cities over the weekend while Lord Young of Cookham resigned as a whip.

Side note... what does 'prorogation' actually mean?

Prorogation is the action of "discontinuing a session of a parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it."

The term for the formal end of the parliamentary year featured heavily in column inches and internet search requests, with information from Wikipedia showing more than 22,000 views on the page about the process on August 28, compared to a daily average of 39.

So, what happens next?

The shadow of prorogation will loom over Westminster when the House returns on Tuesday. UK Chancellor Sajid Javid will deliver his first spending review on Wednesday but this could easily be lost in the chatter about Brexit and the suspension of the House.

The amount of time on the hands of MPs looking to block a no-deal Brexit in October has been curtailed, so the number of options at their disposal is limited.

A vote of no confidence is among them, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell saying it was "on the table". But if there is no consensus over who should lead a caretaker government, then Mr Johnson would be able to set the timetable for a general election and could ensure a departure from the bloc on October 31.

Alternatively, MPs could try and wrest control of parliamentary business through a Standing Order Section 24 debate and introduce a law to stop a no-deal Brexit. Again, this option is wrought with problems - Labour's Barry Gardiner said it would be "extremely difficult" to get legislation through on time.

What has the quote of the week been?

"I'm afraid that the more our friends and partners think, at the back of their mind, that Brexit could be stopped, that the UK could be kept in by Parliament, the less likely they are to give us the deal that we need" - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in answer to the mounting backlash

... and the tweet of the week? 

"Weep for Britain. A sick, cynical brutal and horribly dangerous coup d'etat. Children playing with matches, but spitefully not accidentally: gleefully torching an ancient democracy and any tattered shreds of reputation or standing our poor country had left" - Stephen Fry

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