As It Happens

Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament 'anything but normal', says MP

British MP Tom Brake called Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament ahead of the Brexit deadline "the sort of solution that dictators around the world adopt."

Liberal Democrat Thomas Blake says the British prime minister is attempting to 'ram through' no-deal Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves from the steps outside 10 Downing Street in London in July. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)
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British MP Tom Brake called Prime Minister Boris John's decision to suspend Parliament ahead of the Brexit deadline "the sort of solution that dictators around the world adopt."

The Queen has approved Johnson's request to suspend the U.K. Parliament for five weeks in mid-September amid a growing crisis over Brexit.

Many of his Westminster colleagues say it's an insult to democracy — and it gives them precious little time to work out legislation that would prevent a no-deal Brexit before the Oct. 31 deadline.

Brake is a Liberal Democrat MP and the party's Brexit spokesperson. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, is calling this a constitutional outrage. What do you call it?

I call it a constitutional outrage as well. Boris Johnson, our prime minister, is pretending that what he has done is normal. It is anything but normal. This has not happened before, and I believe a majority of members of Parliament are going to work to stop him simply shutting down our Parliament. 

What do you mean when you say this hasn't happened before? How is this different from any previous prorogation?

What prorogation is normally used for is when a government has completed the set of bills that they brought forward in the previous Queen's Speech. They tie up a few loose ends, they clear the decks. Parliament doesn't sit for a week or two, and then Parliament is recalled or resumed — a new session of parliament with a new set of bills, proposed bills, in the Queen's Speech. 

What this is about is actually shutting down Parliament so that Parliament isn't sitting at the point when the prime minister wants to push through a no-deal, crashing out of the European Union, Brexit — something for which he does not have a mandate, and he knows that a majority of members of Parliament would stop him doing it.

His solution to this problem — the sort of solution that dictators around the world adopt — is simply to shut our Parliament.

Anti-Brexit supporters gather outside the Prime Minister's residence on Wednesday. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Does he not have the constitutional right to do this? After all, the Queen has approved it. 

Well, he may have the rights to do it. But the reason he is doing it is because he knows that a majority of MPs have on a number of occasions made it very clear that they will not let him ram through no deal, causing the sorts of problems that his own government has identified in their analysis — things such as medicines, food and fuel shortages.

Do you think that this is going to trigger a non-confidence vote in the few days that Parliament will actually be back?

There are other things that Parliament can do, and members of the Opposition parties — and indeed members of the conservative party — have been working together on them.

We believe that a legislative approach is still possible — one that would make it, in effect, law that he had to rule out no deal.

The possibility of a vote of no confidence clearly remains, but that is certainly not our priority at the moment. 

Do you think that MP's who want to pass legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit actually have the time to get that together, to get a vote?

There's a question over that. But we know that emergency legislation can be passed in as little as two days.

I think what Mr. Johnson has done is he has bolstered our numbers. He's boosted our numbers, because a number of his ministerial colleagues ... have been tweeting how outraged they are at this proposal, something which it would seem as though very few members of his cabinet, very few of his ministers, actually knew was in the offing. 

Mr. Johnson has said he was going to do-or-die by the 31st of October. He's clearly decided to die, or at least he's decided to drag the country down with him.

But is it possible that he is trying to force someone else to trigger an election with this move?

One of the other possible scenarios that we have been looking at is whether he might try to trigger a general election himself. To do that, he'd need either a motion of no confidence passed in him —  in other words, that Parliament has no confidence in him. Alternatively, he would need two-thirds of MPs to support the idea of a general election.

If he were to try that route, his intent on holding a general election would again have the sole purpose of having the country in the middle of a general election at the point when we pass the 31st of October, thereby guaranteeing that members of Parliament are not there, not sitting ... and thereby guaranteeing again that we would crash out of the European Union.

So in that scenario, is there any way to avoid and no-deal Brexit?

The way that we believe we can avoid it is by acting swiftly when Parliament returns next week, and passing legislation that will stop Mr. Johnson doing something for which he has absolutely no mandate.

A man in a giant Boris Johnson head digs a grave at the foot of a pretend tombstone outside Downing Street in London on Wednesday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

We see that the SNP is trying to get the Scottish courts to rule to prevent Mr. Johnson doing this. John Major's among the figures in the U.K. threatening to go to court...Is there any action that could be taken in the courts?

Well, clearly that action has already started in the courts. I can't predict what the outcome of that is going to be. But that is one of a number of options that are being looked at to try to stop Mr. Johnson doing something for which he has no mandate and which was certainly not on the ballot paper three years ago, when he and other leading Brexit supporters went around the country telling people what a brilliant deal we're going to get when we left the European Union.

Now, what he's offering is no deal at all, and crashing out.

Anti-Brexit supporters outside the 10 Downing Street. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

So you basically want a new referendum?

Yes, basically we want a new referendum.

Those who argue against any referendum point out that that would be anti-democratic given the country voted to leave three years ago.

How can a referendum in which everyone in the country takes part be anti-democratic?

What is anti-democratic, in my view, is proceeding with something which was won by a small margin, which the polls now suggest people would vote the other way.

With files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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