The Week Ahead in Parliament

The week ahead is likely to be one of the most fascinating in British Parliamentary history. It is not clear what will happen, or even how things will happen – what is clear is that this may be the most significant week in parliament this century.

Boris Johnson’s request to prorogue Parliament has divided both Parliament and the country. A number of protests have taken place across the country.

An Anti-Prorogation rally outside Downing Street

The government argue that prorogation (temporarily suspending Parliament) is a normal process. To an extent this is true. Although elections must take place every five years, each Parliamentary Session normally lasts around two years. The current session has lasted since July 20th 2017 and is the longest since 1651. However, the timing (INSERT days before Brexit) and the length – five weeks as opposed to few days – lean towards suggesting this is a political ploy to limit parliamentarians ability to block a no deal Brexit.

This prorogation will be significantly longer than those in recent history.

However, there are a number of things they may happen this week.

  1. Legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit

Legislation normally takes many months to pass from start to finish. However, it is possible for legislation to be passed very quickly. For example, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill in 2014 passed all its House of Commons stages in one day.

However, in the current circumstances, in will be extremely difficult for legislation to be passed. To do so, a number of hurdles need to be overcome:

a) Control needs to be taken over the Parliamentary Agenda

The agenda of Parliament is normally controlled by the Government. In order to be able to take control of the agenda they will need to apply to the Speaker, Jon Bercow, for an emergency date under Standing Order 24. It is likely Bercow will allow such a request, given his comments that prorogation was “a constitutional outrage”.

The current Speaker of the House of Commons has always been an outspoken advocate of the rights of Parliament. This week, however, this will put him at direct loggerheads with the Executive.

MPs could then introduce the bill for its First Reading, with the Second Reading taking place on Wednesday.

b) Numbers

It is clear that there is distinct opposition within Parliament to a No Deal Brexit. This combined with the fact that Boris Johnson, with the support of the DUP, only has a majority of 1, suggests legislation could be passed.

However, it is important to note that there are some Labour MPs who do support the government’s position on a no deal Brexit. For example, veteran Labour MP Kate Hoey is a passionate advocate of Brexit, whilst MPs like Lisa Nandy recognise they are in leave supporting seats. These MPs may not vote against an opposition motion, but there is a distinct possibility that they may abstain, making legislation harder to pass.

In addition, on Sunday Evening Boris Johnson declared that a Conservative MP who voted in support of opposition motions this week would have the whip withdrawn and would be deselected, meaning they could not stand as Conservatives at the next General Election (which is likely to be held before the end of the year). It is unlikely this threat will have an impact on all. For example, Oliver Letwin has already said that he will stand down at the next election so this is little deterrent.

David Gauke is one MP who has said he will vote against a no-deal Brexit and could face de-selection.

c) The House of Lords

Any bill needs to be agreed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Whilst in the House of Commons the Speaker is in control and can limit the time spent on speeches, this is far less the case in the Lords which has a more informal set up. This will give the chance for Lords who support the government (of which there are many) to filibuster the bill. The House of Lords does not usually sit on a Friday and it is unlikely a bill will reach the Lords until Thursday. This leaves only two days for the bill to go through all of its required stages – which is extremely hard to imagine at present.

However. If it does, the bill will receive Royal Assent on Monday and the government will have been defeated on its current Brexit plans.

2. A Motion of No Confidence

Failing an attempt to pass legislation, there is the possibility that a Motion of No Confidence will be held against the Government. This will be covered in Wednesday’s Blog, but, if successful, will see a 14 day period in which either a government (new or old) can secure the confidence of the House or the government resigns and a General Election occurs.

There are very few weeks in parliamentary history that have been entered into under such a cloud of uncertainty. The only certainty is that it will b enthralling.

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