29 Aug 2019
UK Parliament to Be Suspended in Shocking Move Engendered by UK Prime Minister
In a shocking but not wholly unexpected twist to the raging Brexit saga, the UK government has made arrangements on 28 August 2019 for the suspension of the UK’s parliament for five weeks. This period will occur before 31 October, which is the day on which the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. The British Queen has approved the request, which therefore paves the way for the suspension.
The parliament is now scheduled to close its doors on 10 September – which is less than two weeks away. The aim of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to begin a new parliamentary session from 14 October. With such a short time before the Brexit date, Members of Parliament (MPs) will struggle to put an end to the UK’s departure without a deal.
The suspension of parliament signifies the probable inability of MPs to have the necessary time to pass laws which could halt a hard Brexit from occurring. The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October. As the latter date is incorporated into law, it is the default position, and if there is no time to put alternatives in place then the UK’s imminent departure without a deal would be automatic.
The suspension of parliament, or “prorogation”, marks the end of a parliamentary session. It is the formal name given to the period between the end of a session of parliament and the opening of the next session of parliament. The Queen formally prorogues parliament. It usually takes the form of an announcement, on behalf of the Queen. Once both the House of Commons and House of Lords are officially prorogued, they will not meet again until the state opening of parliament.
Hong Kong sellers may be wondering what happens to parliamentary bills that are still in progress at the time of prorogation. The simple answer is that prorogation brings to an end nearly all parliamentary business. As mentioned on the UK parliament website, motions lapse when the House becomes prorogued, questions which have not been answered fall, and nothing more will happen with them. If they have not been answered then they will remain unanswered. No motions or questions can be tabled during a prorogation.
Even though the circumstances are unusual, prorogation is not illegal. Therefore, opposing it, even in court, would be difficult, as Mr. Johnson’s government is not, it is understood, breaking the law. However, should MPs not wish to go along with the parliamentary suspension, they could trigger an election pursuant to a vote of no confidence in the government.
Reactions have been dramatic. Those who support the government’s move claim that it respects the 2016 referendum result, by ensuring that the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. Those that oppose the move claim that it is undemocratic and undercuts MPs’ powers. As, apparently, most MPs are against a no-deal Brexit, the move is seen as particularly controversial and outrageous.
Jeremy Corbyn, who is the leader of the main opposition party, Labour, has declared that “suspending parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the Prime Minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal”. Corbyn’s wish is to “attempt legislation to prevent what [the government] is doing”, with a vote of no confidence to follow thereafter.
With the UK government taking such a hard line on exiting the EU, preferring that this happen at all costs by 31 October, thus even without a deal, questions are being asked whether the EU will soften its position, especially on the issue of the Irish backstop. This is the main, or most well-known, sticking point obstructing any deal. On the one hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have been reported to have intimated that they will consider any new proposals from the UK on replacing the Irish backstop, if such proposals are realistic and can be put into place efficiently and quickly.
On the other hand, there still no real sign from Brussels that the EU is willing to change its position.
In sum, Hong Kong companies exporting to UK and EU markets will have to make trade-related arrangements and preparations well ahead of 31 October 2019, if they have not done so already, to avoid operational disruptions. This is because it is looking more and more likely that a hard Brexit will occur, i.e., Brexit without any withdrawal agreement in place. Unless there is a last minute turn-around or delay, the UK will become a “third country” (i.e., non-EU country) overnight, and its trade flows into and out of the EU will be treated as any other third country’s would be.