UK House of Commons halts Boris Jonson’s snap general election call and hard Brexit plans by 31st october

Johnson still decided to exit the EU on 31st October, with or without a deal, while his brother resigns from PM's cabinet

Eva González London (UK), 5 September, 2019

Completed on 5th/09/2019

The House of Commons voted no to UK the PM motion to call for early general elections on 15th october 2019. The 298 ayes supporting the motion, put to the vote of Parliament by the Prime Minister, where not enough to reach the minimum votes supporting this kind of motion (at least 2/3 -434 votes-) under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

© The House of Commons

Labour party Members of the Parliament voted against Johnson’s snap general election motion, while an early general election call was one of Corbyn’s demands just after Johnson’s take on as PM last 26th July.

Jeremy Corbyn at The House of Commons on 4th September 2019. caption of the video of the debate.

“When No Deal is off the table, once and for all, we should go back to the people in a public vote or a General Election to decide our country’s future,” The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn said at the House of Commons on 4th September.

© BritainElects.

Leaving aside all debate statements at the Parliament, the fact is that the latest voting intention data as of 1st September 2019, published by BritainElects, Labour Party was on 25th July ahead in vote intention amog UK citizens (25.3%) against the Conservative Party (24.3%). By 31st August the situation has changed a lot with Conservatives reaching a 33% of vote intention and Labour dropping down to the 25%.

The House of commos also approved on 4th September the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill (known as the Benn-Burt Bill) in third reading. The Ayes for the Bill were 327 while 299 Members of the Parliament voted against.

Left to right.- Conservative Party “rebels” (left to right): Kenneth Clarke, Pilip Hammond, Sir Nicholas Soames, and Philip Lee. All the images by Chris McAndrew through Wikimedia Commons.

PM Boris Johnson’s working majority in the House of Commons ended with former minister Phillip Lee defection to Liberal Democrats. Some “rebels” inside the Conservative Party increased the support to the Benn Burt Bill. Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, and former finance ministers, Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, are among the “rebels”.

Jo Johnson (MP for Orpington & Minister of State for Universities & Science in Boris Johnson’s cabinet). Photo by Chris McAndrew through Wikimedia Commons.

Surrounded by the reprisals announced by the Prime Minister against the conservative rebels and the successive defeats of Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on September 3rd and 4th, Jo Johnson, who is member of his brother’s cabinet, announced today his resignation.

“It’s been an honour to represent Orpington for 9 years & to serve as a minister under three PMs. In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest – it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister”, Jo Jphnson said on 5th September at noon. The MP for Orpington & Minister of State for Universities & Science has decalred himself pro a sencond vote.

Much more than another Art. 50 extension, the Benn-Burt Bill includes some central add ons to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 (also known as the Cupert-Lewin Bill), which was passed by the Parliament during May’s tenure as PM.
Among the differences between both Bills the Benn Burt opens the door for a no deal Brexit, but just with the approval of the Parliament.
Following the terms of the latest extension agreed with the EU, should UK Government not seek for a new extension of the Article 50 before next 31st, Britain is due to leave the EU by that date with or without an exit agreement.

After his defeat at the House of Commons yesterday, UK PM tweeted on 5th September: “Corbyn’s #SurrenderBill would mean years of uncertainty and delay. I am determined to lead this country forward and take Britain out of the EU on October 31st.”
Meanwhile the European Union provides themselves with instruments able to paliate the negative effects of a hard Brexit on EU member economies. The PM could even be maturing a new snap general election motion on Monday.

Among other measures the EU Comission proposed today to extend the scope of the European Solidarity Fund to cover the heavy financial burden that may be inflicted on Member States by a ‘no-deal’ scenario, subject to certain conditions. This EU Institution proposed as well to ensure that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is available to support workers and self-employed persons who are made redundant as a result of a ‘no-deal’ scenario, subject to certain conditions.

The Benn-Burt Bill does not ban a no deal Brexit

The Bill gives the Government until Saturday 19 October to do either of two things. It could seek and secure the approval of MPs for either: a) a withdrawal agreement, or b) leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.
If by the end of 19 October the House of Commons has done neither of these things, the Prime Minister must then have sought from the European Council an extension of Article 50 for a further four months (until 31sty January 2020).

UK Prime Minister , Boris Johnson, at The House of Commons on 4th September 2019. caption of the video of the debate.

If at any time after 19 October a withdrawal agreement is approved by the Commons, or the Commons decides the UK should leave without a deal, the Prime Minister can withdraw or modify his Article 50 extension request.
The Prime Minister is obliged to inform the European Council that the UK agrees to the extension, in case the EU offers it. This compulsion was not explicit in the Cooper-Letwin Bill.

In case the EU offers an extension to a date other than 31st January 2020, Prime Minister has two choices: a) agree to that extension, or b) ask the House of Commons (within two calendar days) whether it wishes to approve that extension.
If the House of Commons “decides not to pass” a specifically-worded motion approving the extension, the Prime Minister then has a free choice whether or not to agree to the extension.

The Ben Burt Bill also provides for a closer control by the House of Commons on Brexit negotiations between the the PM and the EU setting a periodical reporting obligation for the PM to the Parliament on this matter.

What’s next?

Already completed all the estages for approval in the House of Commons, the Ben Burt Bill will now be introduced in the House of Lords on Thursday 5th September. The House of Lords is a self-regulating chamber, meaning that the ability to restrict time for debate, or the length of Peers’ speeches, is limited.

The House of Lords. Photo provided by the UK Parliament through Wikimedia Commons

The Cooper-Letwin Bill took up two days of debate in the House of Lords even though the Bill’s promoters had originally hoped to complete all stages in one day.
If the House of Lords amends the Bill in any way (for example, to clarify the drafting, or to change the approach of the Bill) it will have to return to the House of Commons and then it will return to the House of Lords for ‘ping pong’. The project can only receive Royal Assent, and become Law, once both Houses have agreed the final text.

Parliament prorogation still pending

Last 28th August the Queen rubricated Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament (prorogation) in the 2nd sitting week of September (from 9th-12th September to 14th October, when Elisabeth the II will deliver her Queen’s speech). Proroguing the Parliament is an standard practice before the Queen’s Speech, but Johnson is blamed to be profiting from this use to avoid the House controll on his hard Brexit plans.

Prorogation brings to an end the proceedings in both Houses for the current Parliamentary session. Unless specific provision is made (e.g. in the Standing Orders to “carry-over” bills) no business of a previous Parliamentary session may be carried over into the next session.

Statutory periods for Parliamentary consideration of secondary legislation are suspended over Prorogation, but the legislation itself does not falland this is the case of the Benn-Burt Bill. This is true, but it is the Government who has the right to reintroduce the legislation in a new Parliamentary session if the House of Lords withheld its consent for a bill. This turns the passing of the
Provided that a year has elapsed since Commons second reading, the legislation may then reach the statute book notwithstanding Lords opposition.

The House of Commons. by the UK Parliament through Wikimedia Commons

A prolonged prorogation reduces the influence of Parliament over the way the country is governed. While Parliament is suspended, MPs and Peers cannot formally debate government policy and legislation, submit parliamentary questions for response by government departments, scrutinise government activity through parliamentary committees or introduce legislation of their own.

The Government can continue to make delegated legislation and bring it into force, and to exercise its other prerogative powers. The main limitations on what the Government can do during prorogation are that it cannot pass primary legislation and it cannot secure approval for further supply (i.e. public money for government spending).

Long prorogations (or requests for them) can give rise to fundamental questions about whether the Government still commands the confidence of the House of Commons and therefore whether it can legitimately continue to govern.

Boris Johnson sees prorogation as an option to deliver a “no-deal” Brexit. The premise of such an idea is that MPs opposed to leaving without a deal could not then use Parliamentary procedure or legislation to frustrate that outcome if it were to become Government policy.

This is possible because the default position in EU law is that the UK leaves the EU on 31st October 2019 without a deal unless: a) a Withdrawal Agreement is ratified; b) a further extension of Article 50 is secured (which requires both the agreement of the EU Council and the UK Government); or 3) the United Kingdom revokes its notification of intent to withdraw.

A long prorogation has been defended by Johnson and its advocates as a means of “honouring the referendum result” from June 2016. However, those who are against Johnson’s approach maintain that a Prime Minister embarking on an strategy as such would do so in defiance of the elected House of Commons, unnecessarily bring the Crown into a political dispute, and undermine the role of Parliament in the UK’s constitutional and democratic arrangements.

Massive signing of an online petition and procedures before Court to abort Johnson’s Parliament prorogation plan

The “do not prorogue Parliament” petition, created by Mark Johnston on 15th August 2019 on Parliament’s website, has passed the 100,000 online signatures.

Any appeal on the official UK Government and Parliament Petitions website that secures 10,000 signatures is guaranteed a government response and 100,000 names sees the petitions committee consider it for debate by MePs.

UK Parliament. Photo by Arpingstone (public domain) sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The court of session in Edinburgh has rejected a lawsuit filed by around 75 Members of the House of Commons aimed to get Boris Johnson’s parliament prorogation declared illegal and therefore aborted by the judicial power. The Scottish court declared the prorogation legal. The court estimated no contravention of the rule of law as it considered this a political issue and that those who are competent to hold the government accountant for this decission were both the Parliament and the electorate.

These Members of the Parliament announced that they were to appeal the Edimburg court decission. Similar procedures to that started off before the Scottish court are on course in Ireland and England.

Related external links:

Boris Johnson’s tweet on 5th September on delivering Brexit by 31st october

Johanna Cherry’s tweet on court refusal to declare PM’s Parliament prorogation illegal

Jo Johnson’s tweet on his resignation on 5th September

BritainElecxts website

Related Eastwind links:

Boris Johnson, new PM of the UK

Brexit.- Corbyn confirms plans to put down a motion of confidence in Boris Johnson

Related Eastwind links (Spanish edition):

Boris Johnson (nuevo PM del Reino Unido): “Cualquier acuerdo de salida de la UE pasa por la abolición del backstop”

Brexit.- Corbyn negocia apoyos con vistas a plantear una moción de censura contra Boris Johnson