Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed Man in an Orange Shirt, a BBC/PBS two-part mini-series. Tina reviewed Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor, a novel with time-travel, WWI history, and a bit of romance. Jean reviewed The Blue Hills by Elizabeth Goudge, a fairy tale adventure.
I had a different post planned for today but then I woke to news on Wednesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested that the Queen suspend Parliament, an act known as prorogation, from the verb prorogue.
Recent analyses of Johnson’s options included this possibility, but it was considered unlikely so everyone seemed surprised by this development.
What is prorogation?
Prorogation is the act of suspending parliament. In the UK, this is a prerogative of the monarch but in modern practice it is only done at the request of the Prime Minister.
Prorogation in the UK is, usually, part of standard operating procedure — it’s simply the time between when one parliamentary session ends and the next begins. It’s unusual for it to be an unwelcome surprise to Parliament.
This video from TLDR News explains this complicated topic well. It was made in June, so some of the political names and faces have faded into the background, but Boris Johnson is mentioned frequently.
The video spends some time explaining the awkward position that the Queen is put in if the Prime Minister asks for prorogation when the Parliament is unwilling. The normal way that things work in the UK is that the Queen does what the Prime Minister asks. This keeps the British constitutional monarchy humming along democratic lines. But, it’s not very democratic for a PM to prorogue Parliament. And, it’s also deeply undemocratic for a monarch to say “no” to the sitting Prime Minister. (Brexiteers would point out that the people voted for Brexit over three years ago and have yet to see it happen and that’s about as undemocratic as it gets. It’s not clear how many undemocratic things cancel each other out to produce a democratic result.)
But, that’s all a moot point, because the Queen issued the order a few hours later.
I’m puzzled, though, that the prorogation is for only a bit over a month and includes a period of time when the Parliament was scheduled to be in recess, anyway. According to the Queen’s order, prorogation will begin between September 9 and 12 and end on October 14, before the October 31 Brexit deadline. This might help with one of the problems outlined in the video — an absent Parliament can’t pass the legislation necessary to make no-deal Brexit a more smooth transition. But, it also doesn’t seem to solve Johnson’s problem — that Parliament could stop a no-deal Brexit. Although prorogation shortens the time and, therefore, the options that Parliament has.
The dramatic nature of proroguing Parliament activated protesters who began organizing within hours for mass protests across the country. Here’s a protest announcement Tweet from Manchester:
Protest on Albert Square from 4pm ONWARDS, I’ll be there 5.30pm. Bring umbrellas, Hong Kong style. It’s Manchester, we have umbrellas, yes?!#ProtectOurDemocracy #emergency #Peterloo2019 pic.twitter.com/Ik82DRzZBF
— Dave Haslam (@Mr_Dave_Haslam) August 28, 2019
Some things to look for in the next few weeks:
- The maneuver mentioned at the end of the video that prevents the next step in prorogation — an address by commissioners to the House of Lords
- Legal challenges to prorogation, starting with one in a Scottish court that might act faster than English ones (according to a report by The Guardian)
- A “no confidence” vote in Parliament that would force new general elections
Update on Thursday. TLDR News made a video about the prorogation that includes helpful timelines:
The big news on Thursday was that Ruth Davidson resigned. She led the Conservative Party (the Tories) in Scotland. Do you remember that Scotland had an independence referendum in 2014? The expectation at the time is that they wouldn’t have another one for a generation. But some Scottish leaders have been saying that Brexit changes everything and they may call for another independence referendum as soon as next year. Davidson might have been a force for delaying or defeating that referendum.