Boris Johnson deepens no-deal Brexit worries with suspension plan — latest news
What is Boris Johnson seeking to do by suspending parliament?
Wondering what exactly Boris Johnson’s plans are (and whether there should be ‘constitutional outrage’ over them)? We were too.
Here’s a helpful Q&A written by George Parker and Jim Pickard.
Rising concern over no-deal Brexit
Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament has lifted the risks of a damaging no-deal Brexit, economists at Capital Economics have warned.
Paul Dales, the firm’s chief UK economist, said:
The prime minister’s decision to suspend parliament from sometime in the second week of September until 14th October increases the downside risks to the economy and the pound by decreasing the chances of a further delay to Brexit and increasing the chances of a no deal Brexit on 31st October.
UBS Wealth Management disagreed with that sentiment:
In our view, the risks of a no-deal Brexit on October 31 have not increased, but it should bring the situation to a head sooner. Meanwhile, sterling assets are likely to remain volatile.
The growing sense of uncertainty is reflected in the market for UK government debt. The 10-year Gilt is rallying the most since mid-July today, pushing the yield lower. Lower yields signal expectations both for lower future growth and potentially rate reductions from the Bank of England.
What now for MPs hoping to block a no-deal?
So where does this leave the rebel alliance after what seemed like such a promising start yesterday? Not in a great place, Jim Pickard writes.
The six parties agreed yesterday to meet within 48 hours but (as of this moment) no meeting has yet been nailed down. One opposition figure said the Johnson manoeuvre had thrown into chaos the plan to block no-deal through the legislative route. That plan – based on the “Cooper-Letwin bill” from earlier in the year – would require several days of Parliamentary time in both the Commons and the Lords.
“It seems that we’ve probably been snookered somewhat, he’s come up with this decisive, quite scary action,” she said.
“It seems difficult to stick to the plan unless we can move extraordinarily quickly next week. The big question is now whether we need to do a vote of no confidence instead.”
But some Labour MPs believe that they can still stick to the current plan to use legislation next week to bind the prime minister to requesting another extension to Article 50, delaying Brexit – despite the painfully tight timetable. One pointed out that even if the legislative route failed, a vote of no confidence could still be used as the fallback option: it could take place after the prorogue is lifted in mid-October – albeit just days before a potential No Deal.
The only problem with a vote of no confidence? It would need about 8 Tory MPs to think the virtually unthinkable and vote down their own government, with the potential consequence of a quasi-Marxist Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Calls to ‘occupy parliament’ to protest Johnson proposal
The backlash to Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks is well underway, with those opposed to his plans voicing their opposition.
An online petition has already drawn a quarter of a million signatures, writes Sebastian Payne. Several prominent Labour MPs, meanwhile, objected to the plans and have called for parliament to be “occupied”, even though they are sitting parliamentarians.
Clive Lewis, shadow Treasury minister, has called for “an extraordinary session of parliament”, although parliament is set to return on September 3 anyway. “The police will have to remove us from the chamber. We will call on people to take to the streets.”
Dawn Butler, the shadow women and equalities minister, has made a similar plea. “No matter how you voted. Boris can not be allowed to close parliament. I along with my colleagues will occupy parliament.”
Left wing activists are calling for people to take to the streets. Owen Jones, the Guardian columnist, has called for people to assemble this evening on College Green near parliament to “stop the coup, defend democracy.”
But it is in fact too late. Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, and chief whip Mark Spencer flew up to Balmoral this morning for a meeting of the Privy Council with the Queen. The decision has been taken, the only way it could be reversed is if Her Majesty made the unprecedented move to go against her government.
Johnson is ‘playing two chess games’, EU diplomat says
One EU diplomat highlighted how Boris Johnson’s prorogation move would raise the stakes even further for the regular summit of European leaders later in the week of the Queen’s Speech planned for October 14, writes Michael Peel.
“It’s definitely a domestic move first and foremost. But he’s playing two chess games simultaneously,” the official said.
The diplomat said the announcement appeared to be part of a phased but risky approach by the UK premier that might increase prospects for a deal – and would also attempt to spread the blame around if things went wrong.
According to this argument, in the first stage, Mr Johnson proclaimed he was serious about exiting without a deal if necessary. In the second, he stressed to fellow European leaders that he wanted to reach an agreement if possible – a message he conveyed to Donald Tusk, European Council president, when the two met at the just-concluded G7 summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz.
The third step – pressed forward by Monday’s prorogation announcement – would be to try to shift the EU27 from its position that it is solely up to the UK to come up ideas to break the impasse and avoid a no-deal Brexit.
“He’s signalling to the EU that ‘we are in it together’,” the diplomat said. “He wants to get away from this idea that the ball is in the UK court – and at least put it in the middle of the court instead.”
Downing Street: this is about delivering the Johnson agenda
The steer from Downing Street – which you might want to treat with a pinch of salt – is that today’s surprise move is not about cutting off Remainers at the knees, writes Jim Pickard.
Instead, it’s all about the new prime minister delivering his domestic agenda as soon as possible through an early Queen’s Speech. (We haven’t had a Queen’s Speech since 2017, just after the last general election.) This will allow Mr Johnson to set out measures on tackling violent crime, investing in the NHS, improving education and addressing the cost of living.
The PM wrote to MPs this morning arguing that parliamentary business had been “sparse” for some time. It had lasted for 340 days, making it the longest session in 400 years. “I therefore intend to bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit,” he wrote. But there’s no doubt that the side-effect of this action is to potentially thwart what Number 10 sees as “sabotage” by the opposition parties.
Boris Johnson is forcing the hands of no-deal Brexit opponents
Boris Johnson is forcing his opponents to face a hard but simple fact. If they want to stop him from pushing through a no-deal Brexit they are going to have to bring him down, and quickly, writes Robert Shrimsley, FT editorial director. By announcing plans to suspend parliament for up to five weeks the UK prime minister has shown he is ready to provoke a full constitutional crisis.
The fury of his opponents is unmanufactured. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will have spoken for many MPs when he referred to the prime minister’s gambit as a “constitutional outrage”. It may be legal but it is certainly an extreme step designed to run down the clock and stop parliament asserting its will.
Read the Instant Insight column by clicking here.
Legal bid to block Johnson proposal planned in Scotland
Backers of a legal effort to challenge the constitutionality of suspending of parliament to force through Brexit said on Wednesday they were seeking to get Scotland’s highest civil court to block Mr Johnson’s prorogation bid, writes Mure Dickie in Edinburgh.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh agreed this month to hear on September 6 the cross party petition brought by more than 70 MPs and peers of the UK parliament and backed by the Good Law Project set up by anti-Brexit barrister Jo Maugham.
“We have filed a motion asking the Court of Session to suspend the prime minister’s request that Parliament be suspended,” Mr Maugham tweeted.
Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National party MP who heads the petition, said backers wanted the court to “look at what’s proposed ASAP”.
The legal case is being brought in Scotland because the Court of Session sits throughout August, unlike the High Court in London — which is in recess until the end of next month. A ruling on the petition would be likely to be appealed to the court’s inner house and then the UK Supreme Court.
No-confidence vote still most probable scenario — ING
Analysts at Dutch bank ING reckon that despite the prime minister’s latest move, the most likely outcome remains a no-confidence vote, triggering elections.
“‘No deal’ has become more likely, although we still narrowly think a no-confidence vote, which leads to an Article 50 extension and early elections, remains the most probable scenario,” says James Smith, developed markets economist at ING.
“Despite all the noise over the past week, we’re inclined to say the government’s ‘Plan A’ is still to seek a revised deal with the EU.”
ING has sketched out this handy diagram as to different likelihoods of where we go from here:
How much time will MPs really lose?
We should not forget that every year MPs decamp from Westminster for the three-week conference season in late September, writes Jim Pickard. So the question is: how many more days of Parliamentary time are being kiboshed by Downing St?
In reality it is probably half a dozen days. Normally the Commons would break up for conference season on September 16, which will now probably happen earlier on September 10 or 11. Meanwhile MPs will not come back on October 7 but instead will return for the Queen’s Speech on October 14.
The loss of six or so days may not sound like a lot, but it could be enough to undermine attempts by opposition parties to use a legislative route to force Boris Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50 – and thus a delay to Brexit.
Yesterday there was a meeting of Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group and the Greens. They announced that they had agreed to use legislation to try to block No Deal, instead of the more dramatic and risky option of a “vote of no confidence”. Now that strategy seems to be in tatters.
MEPs lob criticism at Boris Johnson
In Brussels, MEPs across the political spectrum have criticised Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament, writes Mehreen Khan. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief, tweeted that it was a “sinister” move that would not help future EU-UK relations:
Nathalie Loiseau, a French En Marche MEP, asked if there was a “disease” afflicting British democracy.
However not all EU voices think Mr Johnson’s move is bad news. One official told the FT that the gambit might pay off should the prime minister extract concessions from EU leaders over the backstop at a European Council meeting on October 17 and holds a meaningful vote.
“Parliament has had over two years to debate this deal. It’s now the time for action”, said the source.
Philip Hammond warns over ‘profoundly undemocratic’ step
The surprise manoeuvre by Boris Johnson has thrown Remainer MPs off balance. In Westminster the air is thick with cries of anger from figures who oppose a no-deal Brexit, writes the FT’s chief political correspondent Jim Pickard.
The fury is not confined to opposition MPs. Philip Hammond, who was Conservative chancellor until only a few weeks ago, said the move to shut down parliament would be “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 said.
David Gauke, who was justice secretary under Theresa May’s administration, described the situation as a “dangerous precedent”.
“Imagine that Jeremy Corbyn is PM, pursuing a policy that is unpopular in Parliament & in the country. At a crucial moment he finds a way to evade Parliamentary scrutiny for several weeks,” he said.
A fresh blow for the pound
Markets have reacted sharply to the Johnson government’s move to suspend parliament, sending sterling lower and investors reaching for the traditional safety play of British government bonds.
The pound fell as much as one per cent on Wednesday morning, before recovering slightly to trade 0.7 per cent lower and hover around the $1.22 line.
The leg lower came after the currency has slightly recovered from near-historic lows in the latter half of this month as investors had broadly welcomed opposition plans to frustrate a no-deal exit.
UK 10-year gilt yields fell five basis points to 0.453 per cent as investors moved into the debt.
Ugly battle looms in UK politics
Boris Johnson’s proposal to suspend parliament for up to a month in a bid to stop MPs from launching legislation to block a no-deal Brexit has abruptly broken the relative sense of calm during this summer’s recess.
An “ugly battle” now looms “between the new pro-Brexit government and the lower house,” said Richard Falkenhäll, senior FX strategist at SEB.
Follow along as the FT follows the tick-by-tick developments of a big day in Westminster politics. Have thoughts on the subject or want to give us your input on what you’d like to read more about? Comment in the discussion section.