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A file photo of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Reuters)
A file photo of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Reuters)

Boris Johnson’s Parliament suspension tests UK constitutional norms

  • Boris Johnson's own Conservative Party has described Parliament's suspension as a 'constitutional outrage'
  • The UK doesn’t have a written constitution and, within reason, govts can do whatever they like as long as they have a parliamentary majority

London: Boris Johnson defended his decision to request a suspension of parliament from Queen Elizabeth II, saying it was a normal part of forming a new government and making clear that he didn’t see what all the fuss about a possible constitutional crisis was about. His supporters have been quick to agree.

While they say the suspension is only an extra three days, since parliament was going to be on hold for party conferences anyway, Johnson’s detractors — including senior figures in his own Conservative Party have described it as a “constitutional outrage."

They both have a point, but, as ever, context is the key.

With just over two months until Johnson’s self-imposed deadline to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October, every day is going to count. And since Johnson wants a new Queen’s speech to set out his government’s legislative agenda, which is usually followed by five days of debate, it will be more like two weeks of parliamentary time lost.

While suspensions of as much as two months were common in the 19th century, most prorogations of Parliament in recent decades have lasted for less than a week. Johnson’s suspension for 35 days would be the longest in 40 years.

The UK doesn’t have a written constitution and, within reason, governments can do whatever they like as long as they have a Parliamentary majority. But given that a number of former ministers — including former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Theresa May’s Justice Secretary David Gauke, have already attacked his move, that is far from guaranteed.

They say that, for all his protestations of business as usual, Johnson is suspending parliament to dodge parliamentary scrutiny and stop it thwarting his plans.

And, in British history, that hasn’t always ended happily.

While Charles I was claiming divine authority, rather than a mandate from a referendum, when he ruled for 11 years without parliament between 1629 and 1640, his actions triggered a civil war that led to his execution.

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