Boris Johnson denied that his plan to prorogue parliament for a Queen’s Speech just days before Britain is due to leave the European Union is aimed at limiting opposition to his Brexit plans.
The UK PM announced on Wednesday that a new domestic legislative agenda will be set out in a Queen’s Speech on October 14 — prompting outrage from across the political spectrum.
The timing means parliament will not sit from mid-September, reducing the amount of time in which lawmakers could try to block a no-deal Brexit.
“There will be ample time” for MPs to debate Brexit, Johnson insisted.
But the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow called it a “constitutional outrage.”
“However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty,” he told the BBC.
It comes a day after lawmakers opposed to a so called no-deal Brexit met to discuss ways they could use parliamentary procedure to force Johnson to seek a delay.
Sterling fell sharply, losing around a cent against the U.S. dollar and the euro, as investors took the news as a sign that a no-deal Brexit, and the prospect of a hit to Britain’s economy, was more likely.
“We’ve got to move ahead now with a new legislative agenda,” Johnson said in a recorded interview released to the media, adding that suggestions the timing was deliberate were “completely untrue.”
An online petition against the move on the parliament’s own website had attracted 130,000 signatures by early afternoon on Wednesday.
Philip Hammond, Britain’s former finance minister and a senior figure in Johnson’s ruling Conservative party, said the move was “profoundly undemocratic.”
“It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis,” he wrote.
Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said it was “scandalous,” adding: “We cannot let this happen.”
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was even more scathing.
“I am appalled at the recklessness of Johnson’s government, which talks about sovereignty and yet is seeking to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of its plans for a reckless No Deal Brexit. This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, said Wednesday would go down as a “dark one indeed for UK democracy.”
Parliament returns from its summer break on Tuesday and had been expected to sit for two weeks before breaking up again to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences.
Typically it begins sitting again in early October. A Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14 delays parliament’s return, leaving lawmakers with just over two weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU.
In a news release, the government said: “The decision to end the current parliamentary session — the longest in close to 400 years and in recent months one of the least active — will enable the Prime Minister to put a fresh domestic programme in front of MPs for debate and scrutiny while also ensuring that there is good time before and after the European Council for Parliament to further consider Brexit issues.”