Queen Elizabeth has approved a request by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend Parliament, a move that appears designed to thwart opposition lawmakers from blocking Brexit, prompting protests in cities across the United Kingdom.
Johnson spoke to the Queen on Wednesday to request an end to the current Parliament session in September. The shift gives opposition lawmakers less time to block a no-deal Brexit before the U.K.'s Oct. 31 deadline to leave the European Union.
Johnson, who helped lead the push to exit the EU in a national referendum three years ago and took over from Theresa May in July, has insisted the suspension of Parliament had nothing to do with blocking scrutiny of his Brexit plans, and was instead about delivering on his domestic policy agenda.
“To deliver on the public’s priorities we require a new session and a Queen’s Speech," he said. “Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill required for ratification ahead of 31 October.”
In a letter circulated to all members of Parliament, Johnson said that "the Government will take the responsible approach of continuing its preparations for leaving the EU, with or without a deal."
The suspending of Parliament is known as "proroguing" Parliament. When this happens, any motions or questions lawmakers have put forward then lapse until Parliament formally opens again.
However, the highly controversial move has dragged the monarch into the Brexit debate for the first time. The last time a British government asked the monarch to suspend Parliament in order to avoid opposition to government policy was 1948, five years before Queen Elizabeth II assumed the throne, according to the Institute for Government.
While the Queen's powers are almost entirely symbolic, her approval paves the way for her to open the next session of Parliament with her traditional Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14. Under that schedule, opposition lawmakers will have less than three weeks to scrutinize the government’s Brexit plan.
Prime Minister Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, despite critics of a no-deal Brexit warning that it would have a disastrous economic impact on the British economy.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has asked to meet the Queen to block the move, and vowed to do "everything we can to stop Boris Johnson's smash and grab against our democracy." Corbyn has opposed a no-deal Brexit, the default outcome on Oct. 31, as in reality "a Trump-deal Brexit" that would put the UK "at the mercy of the big US corporations."
President Trump meanwhile has weighed in to back the current prime minister.
"Would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to seek a no-confidence vote against New Prime Minister Boris Johnson," the President posted on Twitter. "Especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for, & will prove to be “a great one!” Love U.K."
Within hours of the announcement, demonstrations were held in cities across the U.K. to condemn Johnson's plan as a coup. In London, thousands of protesters marched from Parliament toward the prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street, waving EU flags and holding up signs that read: "Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shutdown."
Just after 11 at night local time, an online petition saying "Do not prorogue Parliament" had reached more than a million signatures.
The immediate reaction to the news from the majority of lawmakers opposed to the Johnson government was one of shock.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, whose role is to preside over Parliamentary debates, described the move as a "constitutional outrage."
The leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted that “today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy.”
So it seems that Boris Johnson may actually be about to shut down Parliament to force through a no deal Brexit. Unless MPs come together to stop him next week, today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy. https://t.co/68lFnEgiyr— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 28, 2019
Anna Soubry, a lawmaker who is in favor of remaining in the EU and is campaigning for a second Brexit referendum, said the move was “outrageous.”
However, James Cleverly, a Conservative lawmaker who serves in the current Johnson government, played down the news. “Put it another way,” he tweeted. “Government to hold a Queen’s Speech, just as all new Governments do.”
Prime Minister Johnson said from Downing Street that, despite the suspension, lawmakers would still have “ample time” on both sides to debate Brexit in the coming weeks.
Opposition lawmakers could mount a legal challenge to the government, as advocated by former prime minister John Major, or call a no confidence motion in the government which, if successful, would force a general election.