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Boris Johnson’s Parliament Suspension Prompts Fury and Resignations

Boris Johnson’s Parliament Suspension Prompts Fury and Resignations

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Protests broke out in London on Wednesday after Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced his decision to suspend Parliament next month. The suspension could increase the chances of Britain leaving the European Union with a “no-deal” Brexit.CreditCreditWill Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

LONDON — Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, faced a growing and angry backlash on Thursday as his decision to suspend Parliament next month prompted protests and legal challenges, and political opponents scrambled to salvage efforts to stop a disorderly Brexit.

The normally fractious opposition swiftly united in outrage at Mr. Johnson’s maneuver on Wednesday, which brought protesters onto the streets in London and other cities across the country, while an online petition against the action drew well over a million signatures.

[What did Boris Johnson just do to Parliament? An explainer.]

The move also strained relations within Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party and prompted claims from critics that the government was trampling the conventions of the country’s unwritten Constitution, undermining its democracy.

On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson had Queen Elizabeth II approve a plan to restrict the sittings of Parliament in September and October. That reduces his critics’ chances of legislating to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union without first reaching an agreement with Brussels, as the prime minister has threatened to do.

The Conservative Party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, resigned on Thursday, and though she carefully avoided criticizing Mr. Johnson in a resignation letter and a news conference, given the timing, the British news media linked her action to the prime minister’s. Ms. Davidson opposes a “no-deal” Brexit, but said she trusted Mr. Johnson’s assurances that he does intend to reach an agreement with the European Union by Oct. 31.

[The European Union has been called antidemocratic. Now it’s asking if Britain has the same problem.]

Lord Young of Cookham, a former cabinet minister, resigned as a Conservative whip in the House of Lords on Thursday, saying in a letter that Mr. Johnson’s action “risks undermining the fundamental role of Parliament at a critical time in our history, and reinforces the view that the government may not have the confidence of the House for its Brexit policy.”

Numerous reports by bodies including the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have said a no-deal Brexit would be chaotic and would seriously damage Britain’s economy. Leaks from the government itself have warned of the possibility of jammed ports and shortages of some medicines and fuel.

A majority of lawmakers are on record as opposing such an outcome. But Mr. Johnson, who became prime minister last month, has promised to leave the European Union on the scheduled date, Oct. 31, preferably with an agreement but without one if necessary.

[With his Brexit gambit, Boris Johnson revealed a ruthless side.]

In an overnight poll, far more Britons opposed than supported his suspension of Parliament, and angry comments calling it undemocratic peppered social media, many with the hashtag #StopTheCoup.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, and a former Conservative chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, each called it a “constitutional outrage;” Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, labeled it a “a sort of smash and grab on our democracy.”

But Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-line Brexit supporter and the Conservative leader of the House of Commons, on Thursday defended the government’s decision, arguing that there would still be adequate time to debate Brexit. The real threat to Britain’s unwritten constitution, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph, came from those who opposed Brexit and wanted to overturn the 2016 referendum decision to leave the bloc.

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CreditKirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

“The candyfloss of outrage that we’ve had over the past 24 hours — which is almost entirely confected — is from people who never wanted to leave the European Union,” Mr. Rees-Mogg said in an interview with BBC radio.

[Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament drew intense reactions on social media.]

The suspension procedure was normal, Mr. Rees-Mogg argued, because Mr. Johnson wanted to start a new session of Parliament.

While that is technically correct, the timing of the decision, the length of the suspension and its practical impact make the move look like a politically motivated tactic to stifle opposition in Parliament — an institution that Brexit was supposed to strengthen.

Mr. Johnson’s stance also suggests that he is preparing for a general election campaign, in which he could present himself as the champion of the people against a Parliament intent on thwarting the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return from a summer vacation next week but Mr. Johnson’s move means that Parliament will be suspended some time the following week. That heads off any attempt by his opponents to tack on a few more days, a tactic they were considering.

Before Boris Johnson’s latest move,

Parliament had about five weeks in session to debate a Brexit deal.

September

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October

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Parliament scheduled

to return

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Britain leaves the E.U.

But Mr. Johnson introduced a new parliamentary

session and delayed the return of lawmakers, leaving

less than three weeks until the Brexit deadline.

September

Brexit legislation

introduced

during these two weeks

will not carry over

into the new session

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October

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New session,

queen’s speech

and debates

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Britain leaves the E.U.

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Before Boris Johnson’s latest move,

Parliament had about five weeks in session to debate a Brexit deal.

Sept.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

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Break for party

conferences

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Oct.

Parliament

scheduled

to return

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E.U. summit

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But Mr. Johnson introduced a new parliamentary

session and delayed the return of lawmakers, leaving less than three weeks until the

Brexit deadline.

Sept.

Brexit legislation

introduced

during these two

weeks will not

carry over into

the new session

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

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Oct.

6

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New session,

queen’s speech

and debates

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14

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His new timetable has Parliament resuming work on Oct. 14, after the political parties hold their annual conferences — and several days later than previously expected. In addition, he has scheduled an address to Parliament on that date by the queen, laying out his government’s agenda, which lawmakers must then debate, taking up several critical days.

Mr. Johnson had the option of continuing the current session of Parliament into October, but instead he is starting a new one, meaning that any pending legislation intended to bind his hands will not carry over. If lawmakers who want to prevent a no-deal Brexit cannot draft, introduce and pass legislation in the next two weeks, they will have to start again from scratch in mid-October.

In effect, Mr. Johnson has cut short the already dwindling time for parliamentary action, and packed it with new obstacles for opponents of a no-deal Brexit.

Even so, they will try to legislate to prevent a no deal Brexit when they resume work next week.

Another strand of opposition will come through the courts. One challenge is underway in the Scottish courts and, in London, the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller has made an application for judicial review of Mr. Johnson’s decision.

Legal experts are skeptical about her chances and Jonathan Sumption, a former justice of the country’s Supreme Court, told the -’s Newsnight program that Ms. Miller’s case was a “very, very, long shot.”

Ms. Miller has, however, previously upset such predictions. In 2017, she won a case preventing the previous prime minister, Theresa May, from bypassing Parliament on the decision to formally trigger Britain’s departure from the European Union and start a two-year countdown.

Mr. Johnson’s move involves some considerable risks, as the backlash illustrated. Yet it has also underscored the ruthless focus of the prime minister and his team to succeed where Mrs. May failed, after the Brexit deal she negotiated with Brussels was rejected three times by Parliament.

His tactics also seem designed to reunite the political right and Brexit supporters behind the Conservatives, ahead of a looming general election that most analysts expected soon. Under Mrs. May, many of those voters had drifted away from the Conservatives, gravitating to smaller, pro-Brexit parties.

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