- Boris Johnson announced Wednesday the suspension of Parliament for five weeks, until October 14, just two weeks before the Brexit deadline.
- This decision provoked the anger of the deputies, who hoped to block an exit without the agreement of the European Union. Some of them described the maneuver as a "constitutional scandal".
- The EU exit agreement between Theresa May and Brussels, after more than two years of fierce negotiations, had been rejected three times by British MPs.
The saga of Brexit never ends. Two months before the final exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, scheduled for October 31,
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided on Wednesday
suspend Parliament for five weeks until October 14, two weeks before the deadline.
A decision that provoked the ire of a large number of British deputies, describing the maneuver as a "constitutional scandal". Why
Did Boris Johnson make that decision? Is it constitutional? If you have not understood anything about the situation in Britain, do not worry, 20 minutes helps you to see more clearly.
What decision did Boris Johnson make?
After receiving the approval of Queen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister announced Wednesday the suspension of Parliament for five weeks, from 9 September to 14 October. Called "prorogation", this procedure, rather usual, allows to close the parliamentary session and to open a new one. Traditionally, when a new government is formed, the Prime Minister asks the Queen to suspend the Parliament, each new parliamentary session to be opened by a speech of Her Majesty, which exposes the program of the government and thus marks the new era that opens.
"Each year, in September, the Parliament is suspended for several weeks, because it is the period of the annual congresses of the political parties", adds Emmanuelle Avril, professor of British civilization at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle and co-author of the book Where is the United Kingdom going?*.
But then, why does this decision tick?
It is not the suspension, strictly speaking, that has angered Parliament, but its duration. "What is unusual and unprecedented is the duration of the suspension," explains Emmanuelle Avril, who states that "normally, this mechanism is used for much shorter durations." For Sabine Saurugger, professor of political science at Science Po Grenoble, what blocks is the timing: "This suspension, much longer than usual, comes at a time when Parliament is in the middle of a debate on the issue of Brexit ".
As the school year is scheduled for Tuesday, September 3, Parliament will sit only a few days before its suspension (September 9). The calendar will only resume on October 14, two weeks before the Brexit deadline (October 31). A short time that will put the deputies, hoping to prevent a Brexit without agreement, in trouble. Yet the stakes are decisive: if they fail to postpone the deadline of 31 October or to vote an exit agreement negotiated between London and Brussels,
the UK will be released automatically and without EU approval on 31 October.
How does Boris Johnson justify himself?
Faced with the many criticisms, Boris Johnson defended himself, saying on Sky News that the timetable will "leave plenty of time for MEPs to debate the EU and Brexit". "I think it is essential that Parliament sits before the European Council (17 and 18 October) and if, as I hope, an agreement with the EU is imminent, Parliament will have the opportunity to adopt the law on withdrawal agreement necessary for ratification before October 31, "he said in his official statement, released on Wednesday. "The weeks leading up to the European Council are vital for my negotiations with the EU," said the head of the government, adding: "By showing unity and determination, we have a chance to win a new agreement that can be adopted by Parliament ".
For Sabine Saurugger,
"The real strategy of Boris Johnson is to reach a no deal". If Boris Johnson says he hopes for a new agreement, he has said several times in recent weeks that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union "whatever the cost" on October 31,
even without an exit agreement. " The decision to suspend the Parliament, he took it with perfectly in mind the three attempts by Theresa May to vote the deal by Parliament, all of which failed. "Boris Johnson continues to pretend to be looking for an agreement, whereas we have a tendency to think that he is pretending," adds Emmanuelle Avril.
Why do parliamentarians talk about a "constitutional scandal" and a "threat to democracy"?
It has been understood, by announcing the suspension of the Parliament, Boris Johnson brings a little closer the United Kingdom of the scenario of the no deal. "This decision is to prevent the democratically elected Parliament from working. It must be realized that Boris Johnson became prime minister because the conservative party has changed leaders, it is not elected by the British population. There is a real problem of legitimacy: the Prime Minister, who was not elected, gives himself the power to disregard the debates in Parliament, which was elected ", details Emmanuelle Avril. An opinion shared by Olivier De France, director of the Europe program at Iris: "It is a country that claims to be the mother of all parliamentary democracies. But it is not a qualifier that it will be able to invoke for a very long time, from the moment when, in order to take the most important decision of its recent history, the country chosen to do without the representation of its people, namely the Parliament . "
Is the maneuver of Boris Johnson unconstitutional, as some members say? The answer is not so simple. "In the United Kingdom, there is no written Constitution, it is a succession of jurisprudence," says Olivier De France, who adds: "There are arguments to say that it is constitutional and others that say the opposite, that's the difficulty. Since Boris Johnson was authorized by the Queen, he is entitled to decide to suspend Parliament. The real question is: does it have legitimacy? In a parliamentary democracy, can one suspend the representation of the people, Parliament, on one of the most important issues in its history? ". For Emmanuelle Avril, Boris Johnson simply "took advantage of the constitutional flexibility that exists in Britain". "There are a lot of constitutional tools that can be used in Britain. The Prime Minister has taken one out of his hat, now the turn of the Parliament to do the same, "said Olivier de France.
Are counterattacks already launched?
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that MPs on his side will propose a law Tuesday to prevent the suspension of Parliament. They will then have a few days to act before the suspension takes effect after 9 September. Labor is also considering tabling a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson. "We will do everything we can," said the leader of the opposition. On the other hand, a group of 75 pro-EU parliamentarians, who believe that Boris Johnson's decision is unconstitutional, will file an appeal in the Scottish courts. The latter will be studied next week by the Scottish Supreme Civil Court.
On the side of the population, a petition posted on the official website of Parliament, to request the cancellation of the suspension of Parliament, has already collected more than 1.3 million signatures on Thursday. In Great Britain, a petition that exceeds the threshold of 100,000 signatories automatically leads to a parliamentary debate. Still, Parliament must be able to sit …
* "Where is the United Kingdom going? ", Co-written by Pauline Schnapper and Emmanuelle Avril, edition Odile Jacob, 2019.