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Debate flares up over whether UK PM can shut down parliament to push through no-deal Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on August 7, 2019.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on August 7, 2019. Copyright  REUTERS/Toby Melville
Copyright  REUTERS/Toby Melville
By Alice Tidey
Published on Updated
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Debate is hotting up in the UK over whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be allowed to suspend parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit as MPs prepare to take the government to court over the issue.


The Brexit deadline inches closer and closer and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised the country will be out of the European Union with or without a deal by the end of October.

Despite a majority of MPs being opposed to such a scenario, the debate is heating up about whether he should be allowed to suspend parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit.

A ComRes poll, released late on Monday, fuelled the controversy.

The survey found that 44% of Britons would be in favour of Johnson using "any means" including the controversial method of "suspending parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping" Brexit. Of the 2,011 respondents, 37% disagreed with that statement and a further 19% said they didn't know.

Opposition politicians and academics have blasted the survey question as "misleading" and the conservative Telegraph newspaper, who commissioned the poll, was also widely condemned for reporting that 54% of respondents had come out in favour of shutting down parliament.

It comes as a group of MPs prepare to take the government to court to prevent the Prime Minister from taking the controversial measure.

Shutting down parliament

Proroguing parliament marks the end of the parliamentary session which can last a maximum of five years — from one general election to the next — and is started by a State Opening of parliament during which the Queen delivers a speech setting out the government's agenda.

Therefore, prorogation means the end of parliamentary business so no motion or bill can be brought forward, debated and voted on.

If Johnson, who has repeatedly stated that the UK would leave the EU "do or die" — with or without a deal — on October 31, were to use that method, the majority of MPs who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit would be powerless to stop it.

'Misleading' poll

The poll has drawn criticism because it did not ask respondents if they backed such a motion to stop a no-deal exit from the bloc but simply "Brexit".

Mark Pack, a blogger affiliated to the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats Party, condemned the poll and the Telegraph's reporting of it, and announced he had filed a complaint with IPSO, the UK's independent press regulator.

Will Jennings, from the University of Southampton, blasted the question as "misleading" and "dire."

Rival pollsters YouGov and Ipsos Mori also joined the condemnations of the Telegraph.

A YouGov poll released in June, as the leadership contest to replace former Prime Minister Theresa May was just starting, had found that 47% of of the 1,702 respondents "opposed" the future Prime Minister proroguing parliament "until after Brexit takes place" thus preventing MPs from voting "against a No Deal Brexit."

Only 24% of respondents backed the motion.


Legal challenge

Unlike Jeremy Hunt, his main rival for the Conservative leadership, Johnson had rejected ruling out proroguing parliament during the leadership campaign insisting he would "not take anything off the table."

MPs retaliated by backing an amendment prior to Johnson being elected Prime Minister by Conservative party members last month that blocks him from shutting down parliament unless a Northern Ireland executive is formed. The UK region has been without an executive since January 2017.

A cross-party group of 70 lawmakers, backed by The Good Law Project, have also launched a legal challenge to prevent the Prime Minister from shutting down parliament to allow a no-deal Brexit.

They have petitioned the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a judge scheduled to review it on Tuesday.


Jolyon Maugham QC, founder of the Good Law Project — which successfully challenged the government last year over its right to unilaterally revoke Article 50 — said that "the fact that so many MPs elected by the people are going to the Court of Session to stop a Prime Minister selected by members of the Conservative Party from suspending Parliament tells you quite how profoundly our politics has declined."

Read more:

No-deal Brexit: everything you need to know

Brexit Guide: where are we now?

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