Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament in September, before recommencing just 17 days before the scheduled Brexit date, has prompted many questions from our readers.
The idea of shutting down Parliament in this way – known as prorogation – has caused controversy in political circles, with critics saying it would stop MPs being able to play their democratic part in the Brexit process in the run-up to the planned exit date of 31 October.
We chose a sample of the questions we received from readers on this subject. Where we didn’t know the answer, we enlisted the experts.
1. Could the Queen have said no? – David Stephens
It would have been impossible for the Queen to turn down the prime minister’s request, our royal correspondent Jonny Dymond writes.
The Queen acts on the advice of her prime minister.
While many, many people may be upset that Parliament is not going to sit at such time, precedent is on the side of those making this decision.
The idea is these things are settled in the Palace of Westminster, not Buckingham Palace.
The Queen had very little wriggle room to make any kind of political decision.
2. Could this lead to an early general election? – David Kuester
Suspending Parliament might well trigger an election, says the Institute for Government’s Hannah White.
Ms White says it is probable the Speaker John Bercow – who has already called the government’s plan “an offence against the democratic process” – will find an opportunity for the House of Commons to consider a motion of no confidence, even if the government does not provide time.
If a majority of MPs vote against the government, a formal process kicks off under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
This provides a two-week period in which an alternative government could attempt to command a majority before a general election is triggered.
Ms White adds that any attempt to prorogue Parliament to pursue a no-deal policy is likely to prompt an election. “That may even be the intention,” she says.
3. How long is the normal period of suspension before a Queen’s Speech? – Anon
It’s normal for new governments to shut down Parliament in order to hold a Queen’s Speech.
The length of time varies – in 2016 Parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days.
This year, if Parliament was suspended at the earliest proposed date of Monday, 9 September, it would be shut down for 25 working days before the new Queen’s Speech on 14 October.
The Queen’s Speech itself is a list of laws the government hopes to get approved by Parliament over the coming year. By convention, it is announced by the Sovereign in the presence of MPs, peers and other dignitaries in the House of Lords.
It also marks the start of the parliamentary year.
4. How many actual sitting days will be lost? What laws currently passing through Parliament will be killed off by the prorogation? – Tom
Parliament was expected to take a break or “recess” anyway from roughly 13 September – 8 October.
Official dates for recess are not actually confirmed, so it is hard to have a definitive number on how many actual sitting days will be lost. However, in theory, it will be between three and eight parliamentary days.
MPs have to approve recess dates unlike prorogations which they will not be consulted on.
On the laws currently passing through Parliament, the Institute for Government says that once Parliament is prorogued, most parliamentary business comes to an end and any unfinished business falls.
However, it is possible to carry over some government bills into the next session, the think tank says, with the agreement of representatives of the main parties.
There are currently 17 government bills in Parliament and the Institute for Government says many of these are eligible to be carried over.
But motions fall when Parliament is prorogued and no new bills or motions can be introduced.
5. Would a legal challenge succeed? – Carmel Dolan
It is not possible to mount a legal challenge to the Queen’s exercise of her personal prerogative powers – these include the granting of honours, appointing the prime minister and proroguing parliament, our legal correspondent Clive Coleman says.
But it is possible to mount a legal challenge to the advice given to her by her prime minister.
That would be done by a judicial review of the advice – in other words asking a court to rule on whether the decision to advise the Queen to prorogue was lawful.
Those bringing it could argue that the prime minister has misunderstood and so failed to correctly apply the law relating to the power to prorogue.
They would most likely argue that the power exists purely for purposes that are consistent with the healthy functioning of the country’s parliamentary democracy.
These purposes traditionally include enabling an election campaign to begin, and a Queen’s speech to be prepared and delivered.
If it was successfully argued that the purpose of Mr Johnson’s announcement was to frustrate the way the UK’s parliamentary democracy operates, a court could rule that the power has been misused and so was unlawful.
There is already a legal challenge taking place in the Scottish courts, supported by a group of MPs and others who are seeking to expedite it.
If a challenge is brought in the English and Welsh courts, all of the challenges could end up in the UK Supreme Court.
- Major: I will seek a judicial review to stop Parliament shutdown
- Do MPs have the power to stop a no-deal Brexit?
In July, former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major threatened to use the courts to stop Parliament from being shut down.
He told BBC News: “The Queen’s decision cannot be challenged in law but the prime minister’s advice to the Queen can, I believe, be challenged in law – and I for one would be prepared to seek judicial review to prevent Parliament being bypassed.”
While some believe a legal challenge could work, a source close to Boris Johnson told BBC News the threat of court action was “absurd”.
6. Could this lead to another referendum on remaining or leaving? – Joyce
The Institute for Government’s Hannah White says she believes Wednesday’s events have made the likelihood of a second referendum less likely.
She says: “It doesn’t look like there’s going to be time and a sufficient group of MPs backing that as an option before the likely Brexit date.”
7. What about all the other non-Brexit business that Parliament needs to do? So much time has been spent on Brexit there must be a backlog. – Amandeep
Ms White says the time spent on Brexit is part of the justification Boris Johnson has made in his letter to MPs today about the need to restart the [parliamentary] session.
“But in practice it’s not just about Brexit. It’s about the fact that the government is in a minority in Parliament, it’s been very hard to do anything significant on a legislative front, without risking defeats,” she says.
“So yes there’s a lot to do and the new session may help a bit, but even once Brexit is done, the government won’t have a large majority, so it may be looking for an election to try and increase that majority and do more on the domestic front.”
8. Can Jeremy Corbyn hold an alternative parliament if the Queen has suspended Parliament? – Luke
“Jeremy Corbyn can hold whatever meetings he likes,” Ms White (of the Institute for Government) says.
“Any group of MPs can meet when Parliament isn’t sitting, and can hold discussions and can choose to vote, but it won’t have any constitutional significance.
“It doesn’t actually do anything in legislative terms.”
9. Is there any valid reason why the government couldn’t have waited until after 31 October to suspend Parliament for a new session? – Chris Simon
Ms White says: “I think the answer to that is they don’t want to.
“This is a political choice. Prorogation is a political choice and they’ve chosen the timing of this because they think it suits what they are trying to achieve.”