Boris Johnson is set to suspend UK parliament for at least a month in order to curtail the efforts of MPs hoping to pass legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
MPs will return next week after their summer break but parliament is expected to be suspended for longer than usual during the party conference season and ahead of a fresh Queen’s Speech, scheduled for October 14.
Senior Downing Street officials confirmed to the FT that parliament would return on September 3 “as timetabled” but would probably be suspended again early the following week, possibly on September 9 or 10. It will not return until October 14.
The prime minister has failed to rule out proroguing parliament several times and insisted that “politicians don’t get to choose which public votes they respect”. A cross-party agreement was struck on Tuesday to bring forward legislation next week that would force Mr Johnson to request another extension to Article 50.
Extending the traditional break of around three weeks for party conference season to up to five weeks will focus the minds of MPs who wish to take control of the House of Commons to introduce a bill to force Mr Johnson’s hand on Brexit.
With parliament due to return just five days before the next EU council meeting — a make or break moment for Mr Johnson’s hopes of striking a new Brexit deal — there would still be enough time for a new Brexit deal to make it through the Commons, but unlikely to be enough for opposition and backbench MPs to pass legislation.
Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney-general, described Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament as “deeply questionable” and “pretty outrageous”.
“Normally when we prorogue parliament, it’s for about 5-6 days maximum between sessions so I think this is pretty unprecedented,” he told the BBC.
Mr Grieve, who is campaigning against no deal, described it as “an attempt to govern without parliament” and suggested Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will bring forward a no-confidence vote in the Johnson government next week.
“I think we’ll move very quickly to a vote of no confidence in the government . . . I think it is more likely because if it is impossible to prevent prorogation, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for people like myself to keep confidence in the government and I can well see why the leader of the opposition would wish to table a motion of no confidence.”
A Queen’s Speech, which marks the opening of a new parliamentary session, is set to take place on October 14 and will be confirmed by a meeting of the Privy Council at Balmoral with the Queen on Wednesday. This will allow the Johnson government to set out a new legislative agenda ahead of a potential election.
The pound fell sharply on Wednesday morning, and was recently trading back below $1.22 as investors reassessed the likelihood of a no-deal exit at the end of October.
Sterling was 1 per cent lower against the US dollar, and was down by a similar margin against the common currency at €1.0970.
The pound has slightly recovered from near-historic lows in the latter half of this month as investors have broadly welcomed opposition plans to frustrate a no-deal exit, however Wednesday’s move highlights how skittish international markets are over the prospect of a disorderly exit.
UK government bonds, often seen by investors as a safe haven in times of market and geopolitical stress, rallied. The yield on the 10-year UK gilt, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, fell three basis points to 0.472 per cent.