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Do All Roads Lead to a No-Deal Brexit? The Prorogation of the UK Parliament

Do All Roads Lead to a No-Deal Brexit? The Prorogation of the UK Parliament

 Giovanni Zaccaroni (Brexit Institute)

Until recently, the idea that a prorogation of the UK Parliament could take place right before the final Brexit deadline appeared to be extremely unlikely. The appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has changed the situation. On the morning of the 28th of August, in the last days of what is for many commentators and experts the end of a well-deserved Summer break, he formally requested that the Queen convene the Privy Council to examine the suspension of the Parliamentary activities.

The Queen has accepted the request of his Prime Minister and agreed on a timeline for the suspension of the Parliamentary activities from between the 9th and the 12th of September, until the 14th of October (a couple of weeks before the final Brexit deadline, the 31st of October). The Queen will then be required to give her speech in front of the Chamber to mark the re-opening of Parliament.

The reasons for the prorogation

The request for prorogation usually marks the end of the Parliamentary session, but it might also be called before the Parliament is dissolved. In these times of recurrent political crisis (in Italy and Spain, despite the most recent developments, there is still the possibility of snap elections to take place in winter or spring), the situation of permanent political and constitutional crisis that led to the request of prorogation is not a surprise.

While, as said, usually the prorogation is used to mark the end of a Parliamentary session, in this case the suspension of the Parliamentary activity (which is the direct consequence of the prorogation) has been requested to avoid the  approval, by the Parliament, of measures that could represent an obstacle to the delivery of a No-Deal Brexit. Another reason might have also been also to avoid the calling of a confidence vote against the government. Under the current circumstances, accordingly, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have resorted to the ultimate weapon in their hands to avoid the approval of a bill against a No-Deal Brexit and they appear to be heading convincingly in this direction.

While the consequences of a No-Deal Brexit seem to be very unpleasant for the citizens of the United Kingdom, the vision behind this move is, more concretely, to avoid being stuck in Parliamentary debate while the government tries to negotiate a better deal with the EU, and, in the event that a new deal will not take place, present the Parliament with the only choice of following the path of a No-Deal Brexit.

This might however, according to scholars, undermine the principle of separation of powers and of institutional balance, and ultimately violate the doctrine of confidence.

The consequences of the prorogation

The practice of suspending the Parliament before new elections or in extraordinary circumstances is not something unknown in the continental constitutional legal systems. What is different is that, in the UK, the monarch (as guarantor of the UK constitutional legal order) seems to have less ability to effectively influence the request of the Prime Minister. While in other legal system, such as the Italian one, the President of the Republic has the exclusive prerogative to order the suspension of Parliamentary activities, in the United Kingdom the monarch has always agreed to the prorogation request of the Prime Minister. However, the  decision in this case is unprecedented, since this seems to be the longest prorogation of the UK Parliament since the Second World War (1945).

The No-Deal strategy of the Prime Minister appears to be working as expected. The internal minority of the Conservative party is attempting to obtain the reversion of the decision, while the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin, will try to call a no confidence vote before the suspension of the activities. However, none of the political actors seems to have a better strategy than the one of the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson, despite a political and constitutional crisis of rare dimensions, is leading his country towards the only solution he has always promised to deliver: No-Deal. If this is an attempt to bring the European Commission back to the table of the negotiations, or a genuine belief in the ability of the British people to be able to stand up in front of difficulties it is something be assessed.

The little awareness of the political and constitutional practices and the tendency to resolve complex institutional issues with the recourse to unpredictable moves is becoming a distinctive element of many national parties opposed to the process of Europeanisation and globalization currently taking place at legal, political and social levels.

Brexit, in this scenario, can be seen as the response of the British people (cleverly manipulated or not by a relatively small political elite) to the complexity of the legal and political system. If a strategy by those who believe in an interconnected and globalized world is to be found, this should be the starting point.