Apologists have argued that, as Parliament closes down for conference season during September and October, only six days’ debate will be lost. This is inaccurate as, while the headline business of the House of Commons shuts down for conference season, other methods of scrutiny including Select Committees and the House of Lords continue. These will also be closed down during prorogation.
Comparisons have also been made to John Major’s prorogation of Parliament in 1997. While that was certainly a cynical use of “arcane procedures” (our current PM’s description of prorogation) the purpose and effect was to stop Parliament debating a report into the ‘cash for questions’ scandal, and minimise bad publicity ahead of a general election that Major’s government were almost certain to lose. The current prorogation minimises debate and scrutiny of a process which will define our country’s relationship with the rest of the world for decades, and could very easily lead to a break-up of the union. Johnson’s prorogation is a hundred times more dangerous than Major’s.
There has been media speculation of the possibility of Parliament being prorogued since May 25th at least. By June 4th Dominic publicly came out in support of the idea of closing down Parliament to limit scrutiny, and for a long time he was alone in pushing this idea.
Raab – famous for announcing that he “hadn’t quite understood” how important Dover is to UK trade, and for resigning in protest against a deal he had negotiated – needed a Unique Selling Point in his leadership campaign, and being the most hardcore candidate on Brexit probably kept him in the race for longer than his talents deserved. Raab is now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and First Secretary – making him the second most powerful member of the cabinet.
“Proroguing Parliament undermines parliamentary democracy and risks a general election. I rule it out and call on all candidates to do the same.”
Matt Hancock – Secretary of State for Health – was one of the first to condemn Raab’s proposal, giving this written response to a media question.
“It’s certainly not something I would seek to do. I’m passionate about parliament democracy. It was my job to make sure I understood the implications of different outcomes, but certainly not because it was something I was attempting to do.”
On June 6th Andrea Leadsom – then Leader of the House of Commons, now Secretary of State for Business – was interviewed on Sky News and asked about Raab’s plan.
“Proroguing Parliament is clearly a mad suggestion.”
On the evening of June 6th, Nicky Morgan appeared on Question Time, and was quick to condemn the idea of proroguing Parliament. Since Johnson’s appointment Morgan left the backbenches to become Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“I think it’s outrageous to consider proroguing Parliament. We are not Stuart kings.”
Amber Rudd – Minister for Work and Pensions since November last year – was another to condemn Raab’s suggestion. An acquaintance of Sajid Javid made it known that he disagreed with Raab, but I can’t find a statement at that stage. Rory Stewart, who resigned to the Tory backbenches when Johnson took power, described Raab’s plan as “unlawful, undemocratic, and unachievable”.
‘You don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy. We are not selecting a dictator,’
During a televised leadership debate on June 15th Sajid Javid – at the time Home Secretary, now Chancellor of the Exchequer – gave this reply. During the same debate, Jeremy Hunt said that “it was the wrong thing to do”, and Rory Stewart called proroguing “undemocratic” and “deeply disturbing”.
“It would be a terrible thing if having said we should have more power in our country & trust our institutions more we shut the doors of parliament”
Also during the June 15th debate, Michael Gove clashed with Raab, making it clear that he opposed the idea. At the time Gove was Secretary of State for the Environment, he has since ascended to become the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a vaguely defined but senior role.
“The idea that a new PM will want, let alone be allowed by backbench MPs or Peers, to prorogue Parliament is bonkers. It would look appalling.”
George Freeman was appointed as Secretary of State for Transport by Boris Johnson. I can’t find a context for this quote, but Freeman was quoted by the right-leaning journalist Ian Birrell, and Freeman’s reply seems to indicate that it’s an accurate quote.
“I would also like to make it absolutely clear that I am not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament. As someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of a democratic nation, I believe in finding consensus in the House of Commons.”
In the early weeks of July the Tory leadership race was whittled down to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. Both gave answers to the ‘One Nation Caucus’, a group of Tory MPs. This was part of Johnson’s response. Hunt’s response was that “in no circumstances would I prorogue Parliament as a means of securing a No Deal outcome.”
In addition to Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, Justine Greening has described proroguing of Parliament as “the ultimate anti-democrat move”, and yesterday referred to Johnson’s actions as “a grubby attempt to force No Deal”. According to Ken Clarke, the Tories “saying it isn’t designed to frustrate Brexit” are telling “blatant lies”.
Brexit began as a civil war within the Tory Party, and at heart that is what it is.
If you live in the UK and would like to voice your displeasure, you can sign an official petition on the Parliamentary website.