What Boris Johnson's plan to prorogue parliament really means

The government's gambit changes less than they want people to think.

NS

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Has Boris Johnson found a way to stop parliament from preventing the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal?

The government will seek to extend the conference recess – the period in which parliament does not sit in order to hold the Labour and Conservative Party conferences – to 14 October, in a bid to leave MPs with just the time between 2 September to the 11, and from 14 October to 31 October, to legislate to prevent no deal.

It would sidestep the statutory obligations placed on the government in July. But look closer and the move isn’t as significant or as game-changing as it looks. Parliament’s opponents of no deal already don’t have very much time left to legislate to prevent no deal. That’s why one of the things that opposition leaders agreed to at yesterday’s meeting on ways to stop no deal was that they must seek to cancel the conference recess.

Frankly, as far as the government’s commitment to no deal is concerned, this row is pretty pointless: if there is a majority for the scale of legislative action to stop no deal, there is a majority for the considerably less controversial move to truncate the conference recess in order to pursue that legislative action. If the government can do this, they don’t really need to.

But what it does do is it sets up a showdown in parliament next week that would give Johnson the pretext to stand outside Downing Street, decry the bad behaviour of MPs and go to the country on a “don’t let politicians steal Brexit” ticket before 31 October – which increasingly looks like the government’s real first preference, rather than pursuing a no-deal Brexit with such a fragile parliamentary majority.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.