Robert Comments on Decision to Prorogue Parliament

The current Parliamentary session is the longest since the Civil War and we are long overdue a new one. Recent Parliamentary business has too often felt like an exercise in filling time, both in the Commons and Lords, while key Brexit legislation has sat on the shelf to ensure it could still be considered for “carry-over” into a second session.

This is unsustainable and cannot continue.

We have a new Prime Minister and Government, with a bold, exciting new domestic agenda that goes way beyond Brexit: increasing funding in schools and the NHS, recruiting more police officers to keep our communities safe and cutting the cost of living. All these policies matter a great deal to people in West Oxfordshire and across the country – and the Government should waste no time in bringing forward the ambitious domestic legislation needed to deliver on these priorities.

But all of these things require legislation, even if only in some cases for the Finance Bill that is required in order to provide the money to pay for them. Legislation is laid out in a Queen’s Speech. Since we have exhausted the legislative programme in the last Queen’s Speech, we need a new one. That in turn requires a new Parliamentary session. That in turn requires, as it always does, Parliament to be prorogued for a brief time.

The Prime Minister therefore asked Her Majesty The Queen to end the current Parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September, before commencing the second session of this Parliament with a Queen's Speech on Monday 14 October. On Wednesday afternoon Her Majesty approved this order.

Is this constitutionally abnormal?

No. It is in fact constitutional normality for Parliament to be prorogued in the Autumn in advance of a Queen’s Speech. It happens, normally, once a year, since there is usually only one Parliamentary session per year.

It is perfectly legitimate and indeed standard practice for a new Prime Minister to seek a new Queen’s Speech in order to set out their own policy agenda.

Let’s also not forget that those MPs now complaining most vociferously about this matter were the very people plotting to install an alternative Prime Minister and Government, without an election to form the largest party, only a few days ago and even now are now talking about amending rules to force through legislation without proper debate and scrutiny.

Those who are complaining of a ‘constitutional outrage’ now were not making the same complaints when The Speaker allowed some backbenchers take over the order paper and force through rushed legislation earlier this year - and that truly was constitutionally abnormal.

Does this prorogation limit Parliament’s ability to debate Brexit?

No. It is important to remember that Parliament was already due to be suspended for three weeks in September/October for Party Conference Recess, as it is every year.

This prorogation will result in only three working days being lost and there will  therefore still be ample time for MPs to debate Brexit.

But people have said that this prorogation is being used by Boris to ‘drive through’ a no-deal Brexit?

This is categorically untrue. Anti-“no deal” MPs will have ample time to debate and approve a new Withdrawal Agreement, should the EU be sufficiently flexible for one to be negotiated.

Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the Government's overall programme, and approach to Brexit, in the run up to the crucial EU Council meeting on 17-18 October, and then vote on this once the outcome is known.

Should the Prime Minister succeed in agreeing a deal with the EU, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Bill required for ratification of the deal ahead of 31 October.

In any event, it is worth remembering that those MPs who now profess that their only motivation is to avoid a “no deal” Brexit had three opportunities to vote for a “deal” - and did not. Even I, who was deeply critical of the deal and wrote about it in great detail, ultimately took the view that because I had always said that I supported a reasonable compromise, and no better deal had been forthcoming, that I had to compromise too.

The fact remains that if MPs want to avoid a “no deal” Brexit, then MPs have to vote for a deal. Those MPs refused to do so - so their complaints about heading towards a “no deal” Brexit now ring rather hollow given that they had their chance to avoid it, and did not take it, and make their concern for Parliamentary democracy at this stage feel rather contrived.

This new Government, in contrast, has done what should have been done in the first place: to make clear that “no deal” was still on the negotiating table, whilst ensuring that significant preparations were undertaken in order to guarantee that, in the event of “no deal”, any negative impact can be either avoided or, at the least, properly mitigated.

So, in conclusion

This prorogation is standard parliamentary procedure and is essential if the new Government is to deliver the ambitious domestic agenda that addresses the public’s top priorities: investing in the NHS, schools and cutting crime.

Furthermore, it is completely untrue to claim that the prorogation will ‘shut MPs out’ of the Brexit debate or that it is being used as a means of ‘forcing through’ a no-deal Brexit.

Only three sitting days will be lost as a result of this prorogation. There will still be ample time for MPs to debate Brexit and an opportunity for Parliament to approve a new deal which, it is important to remember, is the Prime Minister’s objective.

Robert Courts MP