Boris Johnson's Move To Suspend Parliament Ahead Of Brexit Is Bigger Than It Seems
Over three years after Britain voted to leave the European Union in Brexit, its Parliament remains bitterly divided — over how, when, and even whether the deal will happen. If anything, however, lawmakers were at least supposed to have the next two months to debate Britain’s departure. Or so they thought. In his latest brash move, newly selected Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament, and Brexit is up in the air. Again.
The current Brexit deadline is Oct. 31, leaving Parliament just about two more months to negotiate a deal to leave the EU, according to The Atlantic. On Aug. 28, however, Johnson decided even that is too much time, announcing he would extend Parliament’s scheduled two-week suspension in September to three weeks. His claimed reason for doing so? To “get on with our domestic agenda” and focus on new, important legislation, according to The New York Times. The move would reduce the amount of time lawmakers have to oppose or find alternatives to any Brexit plan from Johnson, potentially limiting both opposition and input. In what is essentially a performative formality, Queen Elizabeth II approved his request on Aug. 28.
Opposition lawmakers denounced the decision on Twitter as “a deeply dangerous and irresponsible way to govern” and “a precarious path” to impede democracy. An online petition opposing the suspension received over 1.4 million signatures by the morning of Aug. 29, and some lawmakers announced their resignations. At least 75 members of Parliament announced a legal attempt to stop the suspension on Aug. 29, per The Guardian. From the other side of the pond, President Donald Trump tweeted in support of Johnson. "Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for," Trump wrote on Aug. 28.
Brexit has been a winding, contentious affair since the original referendum in June 2016, when about 52 percent of voters voted to leave the European Union. At the time, Johnson, former mayor of London, was leading the charge for a Leave vote against then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s pro-Remain government. However, most people, perhaps even Johnson himself, did not imagine Brexit would actually pass. In the years that followed, Cameron’s successor Theresa May attempted — and failed — three times to get a Brexit deal through Parliament before ultimately resigning. Johnson took office as her replacement on July 23, 2019.
With only a few weeks to go, there are a number of major sticking points standing in the way of the Brexit deal, which needs to be signed off on by EU leadership. Among the questions to be resolved are what kinds of trade agreements Britain will have with countries remaining in the EU, and the thorny possibility of conflict at a recreated border in Ireland. Now that Parliament's timeline to debate possible solutions is cut even shorter, what’s going to happen next? There are a few possible outcomes, according to The Atlantic.
In one scenario, Parliament manages to come together in a concerted effort to prevent Johnson’s no-deal Brexit — a threat he has thrown around in attempts to maneuver negotiations with the EU. Despite Parliament’s reputation for drama and infighting, cooperation actually may be possible this time around. The New York Times reported on Aug. 27 that, bonding through shared frustrations, opposition lawmakers, led by the opposing Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, have “agreed on the urgency to act together to find practical ways to prevent no deal, including the possibility of passing legislation and a vote of no confidence.”
If successful, this could push Johnson, with his hands tied, to trigger an early fall election. On the other hand, the second option — a “vote of no confidence” — would be more immediate. If Parliament chooses to pass a vote of no confidence, the government would essentially shut down for 14 days, during which Corbyn would have to try forming a government of national unity. While this is one main possibility, The Atlantic reports it would be extremely difficult, especially given Corbyn is not too popular with the public himself. In fact, a government of national unity hasn’t happened since 1940.
Or, neither option happens and business proceeds as Johnson hopes. Taking Parliament’s breaks and newly extended suspension into account, he would have about five weeks to negotiate Brexit with the EU. His deadline to submit his new deal — or lack thereof — to Parliament is October 21 and 22, per The Atlantic.
When the British voted to leave the EU, or when Johnson took office, not many people predicted a fairy tale ending. But with this latest complication, it’s getting really to see the light at the tunnel. In fact, it just keeps getting longer. Regardless of what happens in the next three months, October looms over Parliament as another deciding deadline, whether that will be the final end to this saga, or yet another beginning.