View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
6 September 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 9:00am

Is John Bercow right to call this a “constitutional outrage”?

By Ailbhe Rea

The Speaker of the Commons John Bercow has wasted no time in condemning Boris Johnson’s plan to prorogue Parliament and hold a Queen’s speech on 14 October.

In a statement this morning, Bercow writes: “I have had no contact from the Government, but if the reports that it is seeking to prorogue Parliament are confirmed, this move represents a constitutional outrage. However it is dressed up it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty.”

Is he right? Prorogation was much discussed before the parliamentary recess as a hugely serious and potentially undemocratic – even unconstitutional – means of preventing parliament from exercising its right to debate, scrutinise and bring in legislation to prevent No Deal.  The argument then was that if the government had to prorogue Parliament to get its will, it would raise serious doubts about whether that government still commanded the confidence of the House of Commons – and therefore whether it could legitimately continue to govern.

But what was discussed at that point is not exactly what the Johnson government will implement: instead, as Johnson himself was able to point out in a statement to Sky News this morning, Parliament will still be able to discuss and scrutinise the government’s Brexit plans, between 3 and 11 September and then again between 14 and 31 October.

In practice, this is only one week less than MPs would have had before this move: conference recess was already due to take place from 11 September until early October. In terms of optics, it certainly doesn’t look as serious, as undemocratic or as constitutionally outrageous as it was described months back, although it is worth pointing out that propagations rarely last more than two weeks.

As for the legal legitimacy of Johnson’s move, that is already set to be thrashed out in the Scottish courts in the next few weeks.  A cross-party group of more than 70 MPs and peers is now considering seeking an interim interdict (similar to an injunction in England and Wales) in the Court of Session in Edinburgh to block it, with a hearing already scheduled for September 6.

The Johnson government, meanwhile, is making the excuse that prorogation is simply necessary in order to bring in the major new legislation of a new administration.  ‘This is about the NHS and violent crime, not Brexit, and, the courts have no locus to interfere in a bog standard Queen’s Speech process’, a Downing Street source has said.

The immediate impact of this announcement on MPs hoping to prevent No Deal is that they no longer have the option of suspending the conference recess and buying themselves more time: in practice, prorogation robs them of over a month. Whereas even yesterday opponents of No Deal were considering laying off their plans for a few weeks until they saw whether a deal with the E.U. is likely, they now will feel they need to move the second parliament returns next week.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.