Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Proroguing Parliament: What does it mean?

Boris Johnson has been warned by Sir John Major he could be dragged through the courts if he suspends Parliament in an effort to force a no-deal Brexit through. Credit: PA

With the Tory leadership race coming to a close and the Brexit deadline drawing nearer, the idea of 'proroguing Parliament' is being talked about more and more.

The thought of it is so bad for some that even former Conservative prime minister John Major has threatened Boris Johnson with legal action if he seeks a prorogation.

But what exactly does the term mean?

Until recently only political and lexical experts will have heard the term but since Theresa May announced her resignation 'prorogation' has become a Brexit buzzword.

The official definition of the word, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is: "(To) discontinue a session of (a Parliament or other legislative assembly) without dissolving it."

In essence the term describes the process of shutting down Parliament.

It is the formal name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the State Opening of Parliament that begins the next session, according to parliament.uk.

A prorogation usually takes the form of an announcement, on behalf of the Queen, read in the House of Lords. The last time a monarch performed the duty herself was when Queen Victoria did so in 1854.

Queen Elizabeth II has never prorogued Parliament herself. Instead a speech is read on her behalf in the House of Lords. Credit: PA

The last time Parliament was prorogued was in April 2017 when Theresa May announced she would hold a general election.

The current Parliamentary session is the longest sitting since the English Civil War in the mid-1600s, but in a more normal political climate a prorogation happens once a year.

Usually a prorogation takes place every spring, when Parliament is dissolved before it resumes again after a break.

A regular prorogation isn't a cause for contention but the kind being talked about by Boris Johnson supporters is highly controversial.

  • Why can prorogation be controversial?

Proroguing Parliament - or shutting it down against its will - is one way some MPs - including Mr Johnson - believe Brexit can be forced through by the October 31 deadline.

For the UK to leave the EU - or to remain - a majority of MPs must vote on the final decision, however so far a consensus on Brexit has not been reached.

In theory the next PM could suspend Parliament, meaning MPs could not oppose Brexit and by legal default the UK would leave the EU on October 31 without a deal.

The main criticism of this idea is that without a vote, a PM could force an unpopular no-deal Brexit against the wishes of MPs, something many believe is highly undemocratic.

While Mr Johnson has so far refused to rule it out, his leadership rival Jeremy Hunt has been explicit in his commitment not to do it.

Sorry, this content isn't available on your device.

When asked about the issue during the ITV leadership debate, Mr Hunt replied: "When that has happened in the past, when Parliament has been shut down against its will, we actually had a civil war.

"I think it would be a rather curious thing to do, if this is about taking back control for Parliament, to actually shut it down."

  • What happened last time Parliament was prorogued against its will?

Jeremy Hunt's claim that the last time this happened a civil war ensued is not entirely true however is it not false either.

Parliament was prorogued in 1948 - without any wars being caused - but it was for a much less divisive issue.

In June Theresa May’s former legislative adviser Nikki da Costa, explained in the Daily Telegraph that back in '48 "a new Parliament Bill to reduce the power of the Lords was being blocked by peers.

"But powers … which would allow the government to override the Lords could only be used if there had been a delay over three ‘sessions.’

"A special short session of 10 days was therefore arranged."

Parliament was prorogued in 1948 in order to reduce the power of the Lords. Credit: PA

Back in the times of Oliver Cromwell, however, a civil war between Royalists and Parliamentarians did follow a prorogation.

First Charles I prorogued Parliament and ruled the country as an executive monarch before Cromwell did the same by sending all politicians home and taking charge for himself, according to parliament.uk.

He ruled as Lord Protector and declared war on the Royalists in the English Civil War which lasted from 1642 to 1651.

The Parliamentarians won, Charles I was beheaded in 1649 and his son, Charles II, was made a constitutional monarch in 1660.

King Charles I (L) of the Royalists was defeated by Oliver Cromwell of the Parliamentarians. Credit: PA
  • Can it be done to force through Brexit?

The legal default for Brexit is that the UK leaves the EU without a deal on October 31, meaning in theory all the new PM would need to do in order to ensure this outcome is wait.

The problem with that is MPs are able to hold votes in order to block a no deal.

So the theory - first touted by Dominic Raab - is if Parliament was shut down around the time the UK is due to leave, then MPs would have no option to stop no deal.

There are several problems with that idea however.

Firstly it would require the PM to ask the Queen to become involved in politics by advising her to prorogue Parliament against its will.

One of the conditions of restoring the monarch in a constitutional capacity was that they must not be involved in politics.

Dominic Raab was the first to speak about proroguing Parliament in order to get Brexit over the line. Credit: PA

Another problem is that many politicians believe stopping MPs from voting on the most important issue of our times would be undemocratic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is backing Boris Johnson in the leadership race after dropping out himself, has warned against it.

He said: "(it) undermines parliamentary democracy and risks a general election."

Rory Stewart, another former leadership contender, it would be "unconstitutional," "undemocratic" and "wouldn’t work".

And former prime minister Sir John Major recently threatened he would legally challenge any prorogation of Parliament with a judicial review.

With all these factors at play, it seems unlikely Parliament would be prorogued against its will, however in these political times, anything is possible.