The Queen has agreed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to suspend parliament in news which has sent a fresh shockwave through UK politics.
He has said that is “completely untrue” the government is attempting to squash MPs’ attempts to block a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.
He claims suspending parliament allows him to set out a fresh domestic agenda in a new Queen’s Speech, due to take place on Oct. 14, and that parliament will lose just four sitting days.
So, what is going on and how does this whole process work?
Why did Johnson ask the Queen to suspend parliament?
The UK is a parliamentary democracy with an unelected monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – acting head of state, as opposed to an elected president.
The Queen has no real power, however, and is duty bound to follow the advice of the UK’s prime minister, with whom she meets regularly.
In order to suspend parliament, Johnson must visit the Queen and advise her to do as much.
Why does the prime minister want to prorogue parliament?
First of all, “prorogue” is just the official parliamentary word for “suspend.” Johnson has said that after succeeding Theresa May as the head of government, he wants to set out a fresh domestic agenda.
The government, which is the party with a working majority, controls parliamentary business in the House of Commons, i.e. what gets debated and what laws get passed.
Johnson’s plan will involve parliament being suspended (or “prorogued”) from the week beginning Sept. 9 until Oct. 14.
On Oct. 14, the Queen will make her annual Queen’s Speech, which is a speech to parliament written by the government setting out their agenda, which MPs are then able to vote on. Johnson has said his will be a “bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda.”
So why are MPs angry?
They don’t believe what Johnson says and think that his real game is to avoid scrutiny in the Commons over his Brexit plans.
The UK is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31 and, as it stands, there is no deal in place.
According to the government’s own analysis, a no-deal Brexit could spark riots, shortages of food and medicines, a hard border in Northern Ireland and widespread chaos at UK ports.
Johnson has refused to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline and will not rule out leaving without a deal on Halloween if his attempts at a renegotiation with Brussels fail.
He has insisted he wants a deal and that EU leaders must remove the Northern Ireland backstop in order to get one, but MPs don’t think he can be trusted not to leave without one, so they want to pass legislation that will force Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50.
Speaker John Bercow, who represents the interests of MPs, has called the move a “constitutional outrage.”
Can the Queen refuse?
It is extremely unlikely that the Queen will refuse as she traditionally follows the advice of the government and the Privy Council and does not reject it.
Were she to diverge, her decision would spark a major constitutional crisis.
Can MPs stop it?
MPs have a number of options to stop the proroguing of parliament when MPs return from holiday next week.
With parliament due to return on Tuesday, MPs could table an immediate vote of no confidence in Johnson. If Johnson loses, MPs could form an alternative government and a new PM.
Jeremy Corbyn has said, as leader of Labour, which is the largest opposition party, he would try to win a confidence vote, but several rebel Tories have said they will not back him.
A unifying figure such as Labour’s Harriet Harman or Tory MP Ken Clarke, has also been suggested as an alternative. If that person could win the confidence of parliament, the Queen would then be duty bound to send for them for advice.
MPs can seek a judicial review of Johnson’s decision to prorogue, using judges and courts to try to overturn it, and may rely on a last-minute court injunction to stop Johnson on his way to see the Queen.
Currently MPs aren’t due back at work until Tuesday, Sept. 3, but Johnson may come under increasing pressure to ask Speaker John Bercow to recall parliament early.
It is unlikely he will want to do that but Tory backbenchers are uneasy with Johnson’s tactics.
The chances of Johnson calling an early general election are also higher now, given Tory rebels are set to back efforts to stop him forcing a no-deal Brexit.
How the crucial next few days unfold is hard to predict.
This story has been updated.