The tangled tale of Brexit took another twist today when Boris Johnson suspended Parliament, severely limiting the time opponents can use to mount a legislative challenge to the "no-deal Brexit" many fear. Johnson, who spearheaded the Brexit campaign--and has held Britain's top office for all of 35 days--asked Queen Elizabeth to "prorogue" Parliament from September 12 to October 14. The request to the monarch is considered a mere formality in modern times, and as usual, the Queen gave her consent. Many lawmakers and ordinary citizens are calling it a coup.

During prorogation (yes, that's a word) Parliament will not meet to debate or vote on any legislation. Normally speaking, the body would not meet in any case between September 12 and October 9, which might make you think lawmakers would only lose five days. But with prorogation, the new Parliamentary session would begin with the Queen's Speech which traditionally lays out a legislative agenda for the coming year. That speech is followed by three days of general debate, which means Brexit opponents could not introduce laws to stop it until October 17. October 17 just happens to be the first day of a two-day European Union conference where Johnson has promised to negotiate a new Brexit deal that Parliament will approve. That's a tall order. His predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated three different Brexit deals during her three years in office and Parliament rejected all of them. On top of that, EU leaders, thoroughly out of patience with the UK, have repeatedly said they will not negotiate further.

Johnson says he wants to suspend Parliament in order to focus on domestic issues. But his true intention is obviously to force a "no-deal" Brexit if he is unable to obtain more concessions from the Europeans. A no-deal Brexit, sometimes referred to as crashing out of the European Union, means Britain would leave the group of nations with no trade agreements in place. Among other things, that would result in customs and immigration operations at the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland, and at Dover, the English end of the "Chunnel" that runs between France and Britain. Economists say it will damage Britain's economy and may lead to a recession. Some citizens fear it will disrupt the flow of food and medicines, creating shortages. It's an outcome that most members of Parliament oppose, but then again most don't favor of Brexit at all.

Johnson's move, again probably not by coincidence, comes at a moment when leaders who oppose Brexit finally set aside their squabbling over various approaches to undoing it and united behind a plan to introduce legislation that would force Johnson to request an extension of the October 31 Brexit deadline. A second extension that is--Britain has already received one delay from the original March 29 deadline. Prorogation now means the plan for that legislative action will be tough to carry out because any new laws in process when members of Parliament leave on September 12 cannot be carried over to October 14--they will have to be proposed all over again, debated, voted on, and passed before October 31. 

Even some in Johnson's Conservative Party are questioning the legality and wisdom of suspending Parliament, and many in the opposition are calling it a coup. So are users of the #StopTheCoup hashtag on Twitter, and the thousands of protesters who've gathered outside the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street, temporarily shutting down traffic, as well as in other cities around the country.

If Britain does crash out of the EU, and if the predicted shortages and economic turmoil come to pass, members of Parliament who oppose a no-deal Brexit will have no one but themselves to blame. They've had three years to come together behind an anti-Brexit strategy, either demanding a re-vote, blocking Brexit in Parliament, or at least supporting one of May's three negotiated deals, any of which would have mitigated at least some of Brexit's feared ill effects. Instead, they dithered, argued, and rejected option after option, acting as though they had all the time in the world to deal with their nation's impending departure from one of the world's most powerful trade blocs. They didn't have all the time in the world, and the time that they did have has now run out.

Published on: Aug 29, 2019
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