On Monday night in the UK, after weeks of debate in the House of Commons, endless posturing from government ministers and never-ending speculation from journalists, it actually happened – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially prorogued parliament. (Or suspended it, if you’re not a fan of Westminster jargon.)
It was a moment that will go down in the history books – an unelected prime minister using his powers to shut down parliament and silence MPs in the run up to Brexit, the single-most significant event in UK politics this century.
It’s a move that Labour Party MPs – and some former Conservative Party MPs (Tories) – have dubbed “shameful”. But what will the shutdown actually mean in practice? What impact will it have on parliament and the work voters elect MPs to get on with?
Here are just four of the things that won’t happen because of the PM’s decision to suspend parliament.
Prime Minister’s Questions
No parliament means no prime minister’s questions (PMQs). Usually a weekly occurrence, the session is supposed to give MPs – including the leader of the opposition – the chance to quiz the prime minister about their policies and plans for the country. The session is known as Question Time in Canberra.
Because Johnson was chosen as Tory leader shortly before parliament’s recess, he’s only had to face PMQs once during his time as PM – and it could be the last time for a while.
The shutdown means MPs will miss out on five opportunities to grill the PM in the Commons about his Brexit plans and how he plans to take the UK out of the European Union on October 31.
“If I decide to wear a turban, or you decide to wear a cross, or he decides to wear a kippah or a skullcap, or she decides to wear a hijab or a burka, does that mean it is open season for members of this House to to make derogatory or divisive remarks about our appearance?,” he asked the PM. Ouch.
The suspension also means that certain bills MPs have spent months or even years trying to get through the House are likely to be dropped or put on the back burner.
Former Tory MP David Gauke – who was kicked out of the party last week by Johnson after backing a move to take a no-deal Brexit off the table – claimed on Tuesday that the shutdown meant that a bill to update divorce laws had been dropped.
The new legislation would have allowed no-blame divorces, meaning couples would have been able to separate without having to say a certain person was to blame.
“Disappointed that the suspension of parliament means that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has been dropped,” he tweeted. “Divorce reform is long overdue and the bill had overwhelming support amongst the public and in parliament. I hope parliament can return to this ASAP.”
It is unclear whether the landmark domestic violence bill that Theresa May introduced earlier this year has also been dropped. Last week, Labour MP Jess Phillips wrote to Johnson in a bid to explain what dropping the bill would mean for women and their families.
“This is just another example of how progress in this country is being sacrificed on the High Tory altar, week after cursed week,” she said.
Boris Johnson’s Grilling By The Liaison Committee
Amid allegations that Johnson has shut down parliament in order to avoid scrutiny over his Brexit plans, it doesn’t look great for the PM that the suspension means he’s likely to avoid a grilling from senior MPs.
Johnson had been due to appear in front of parliament’s liaison committee – a group made up of MPs who chair other committees – on Wednesday, with the PM’s Brexit strategy set to have been the main topic of MPs’ questions.
The suspending of parliament means, in theory, that the prime minister will be able to dodge the interrogation.
But MPs are not giving up that easily. Former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who heads up the committee, wrote to Johnson on Monday night, telling the PM in no uncertain terms that they would still expect him to give evidence on Wednesday – suspension or no suspension .
“We are deeply disappointed that, despite reassurance that you were happy to appear before the committee on Wednesday 11th September at 3.30pm, you intend to prorogue parliament this evening,” she penned in a note to the prime minister ahead of the shutdown, calling on Johnson to keep the meeting in his diary.
“Although this would not be a proceeding in parliament, we wish to proceed to meet you in any case to question you as previously agreed and announced.”
Whether the PM will put himself forward for such a grilling is yet to be seen – watch this space.
Questions About Controversial Loan Charges
If you’re not an avid fan of Parliament TV, you might not be aware of the fact that MPs actually spend a lot of their time sitting on committees. These committees are designed to examine policy and quiz ministers and civil servants about their plans.
With parliament’s doors shut for the next five weeks, these important committee meetings are effectively cancelled.
On Monday night in the UK, Tory MP Justine Greening – who last week revealed that she would not be standing for the Conservative Party in the next general election – told the Commons she was missing out on the chance to get to the bottom of a controversial government policy on loan charges.
In April, the government closed a tax loophole for freelancers, meaning some of them were retrospectively hit with tax bills totalling thousands.
Greening told the House: “Many people perhaps do not realise that this is not just closing down the debate on Brexit; it is closing down the debate on everything.
“For example, were we not proroguing, we would have had Treasury questions tomorrow and I would have asked a question to represent some of those people affected by the 2019 loan charge issue.
“That issue, along with the NHS, schools and everything else, will now be set on one side, and this House’s voice on behalf of the people will be utterly muzzled.”