Ed's Brexit Roundup- Where are we? And what are we heading towards?
30th Aug 2019 / By Ed Barker
It can be safely said that the past 6 weeks has created a very excited and excitable Westminster bubble.
After the excitement of having seen a new Cabinet sworn in, with new Ministers and a new sense of direction, this week saw the somewhat surprising decision for the Prime Minister to ‘prorogue’ Parliament.
What does this mean?
Proroguing Parliament isn’t entirely new as a concept, in fact it is often a formality. It is the means (other than dissolution) by which a Parliamentary ‘session’ (usually lasting a year) is brought to an end, ending all activity in both Houses.
It can only be done by the Queen (as her prerogative), now on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prorogation usually precedes a Queen’s Speech, allowing the Government to set out its legislative programme, thus starting a new ‘session’. It does not dissolve the Government (as happens before a general election) and does not adjourn it, like during the summer recess.
In sum, it stops parliament and Government from meeting or doing anything. In the last 40 years Parliament has never been prorogued for longer than three weeks, and in most cases it is prorogued for only a week or less.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister indicated his wish to end the current session and start a new one with a Queen’s Speech, to set out a fresh policy agenda, not unreasonable given the totally new Cabinet and changes in approach.
The main point of contention has been the duration of prorogation – which has been set at five weeks. Taken into account that the Party Conference season occurs in this time, and that is technically a recess (where the House is adjourned), then the amount of expected days lost would be around six days more than usual.
However opponents have stated that MPs have been denied the right to sit during the conference recess and it shuts down their ability to take over the legislative agenda in the Commons in the way that backbench MPs managed to in the last few months of the May Government.
Therefore there are two very different ways one could look at this. Although it reduces the available sitting time by only a matter of days, it does physically stop any attempt from backbenchers from sitting in the House by any means necessary. Given that the Prime Minister has denied that this an attempt to thwart an anti no-deal coalition, it seems odd to prorogue parliament for such an unusually long time.
Putting this altogether means that Parliament will be sitting from about October 14, very close to the UK’s stated date to leave the EU. It demonstrates the new Government’s willingness to see through a no-deal Brexit if necessary and raise the stakes against the EU.
At the same time, it will mean the unveiling the start of a new legislative agenda and with it, a possible host of new commitments or promises, which some say could be an elaborate way of starting a General Election campaign. With a wafer thin majority in the Commons, this option seems entirely plausible whilst opposition parties are unclear as to their Brexit stances or willingness to act together.
For us in the NPA it will mean a frenetic time to ensure that Government ministers and MPs from all sides of the House take our sector into account when making decisions that could make or break the industry. This will include a concerted campaign of ‘no deal’ communication with politicians, civil servants, the media and of course to members.