Social media users are urging Britain’s workers to undertake a general strike in a desperate bid to stop Prime Minister Boris Johnson from suspending the British Parliament.
#StopTheCoup was one of the United Kingdom‘s top Twitter trends on Wednesday afternoon as outrage spread over Johnson’s plan to suspend the House of Commons from sitting until it is too late for opposition leaders to block a “no-deal” withdrawal from the European Union.
Johnson needs to be held to account by parliament, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday.
It is “an outrage and a threat to our democracy”, said Corbyn, who is understood to be seeking a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II to raise his concerns.
“I am appalled at the recklessness of Johnson’s government, which talks about sovereignty and yet is seeking to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of its plans for a reckless no-deal Brexit. This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy.”
MPs are due to return to work after their summer holidays next Tuesday, but the parliamentary session will be suspended – known as “prorogation” – on a day between September 9 and September 12, the Privy Council – a group of advisers to the queen – has confirmed.
‘Do or die’
On Tuesday, six opposition parties came together to pledge unified legislative action to block a no-deal Brexit, possibly by forcing through a new law to delay the date of exit. Many economists, politicians and experts agree a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the UK economy and its global standing.
Johnson has repeatedly promised that Britain would leave the EU with or without a deal – “do or die” in his words – on October 31.
His plan, which sent the UK’s currency into a downward spiral, sets up a clash with parliament, and triggered a furious reaction from Parliament Speaker John Bercow.
“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 in shaping a course for the country,” he tweeted.
“At this time, one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, it is vital that our elected Parliament has its say. After all, we live in a parliamentary democracy.
“Shutting down Parliament would be an offence against the democratic process and the rights of Parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives.”
It is the most confrontational thing you can imagine he could do in the face of this rebellion.
Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas described a no-deal Brexit as “reckless”.
“Your utter disregard for basic democratic standards, the sovereignty of Parliament and the rights of voters to representation is deeply insulting to – and worrying for – every UK resident,” the MP wrote to the prime minister.
“Your duty as Prime Minister is to bring people back together and find ways forward that can re-unite our country, yet you have chosen a very different path.”
Lucas said a no-deal Brexit would never gain the support of MPs, adding prorogation of Parliament was thus “an act of cowardice” – and the “truly brave” thing to do would be to hold another Brexit referendum.
“Your actions demonstrate a reckless disregard for the consequences for my constituents,” she continued.
“On their behalf, I completely oppose this power-grabbing, constitutional outrage and urge you to reconsider.”
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner of the opposition Labour Party said it was “a constitutional outrage, plain and simple”.
“Charles 1st did this regularly which caused chaos,” she tweeted. “Now an unelected PM seeking to shut parliament down for his own political gain, this isn’t taking back democracy this is destroying democracy.”
Charles I was a strong believer in the divine right of kings, and led his troops against the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War. It didn’t go well for him – his reign lasted from 1625 until his execution in 1649.
Parliament is normally suspended for a brief period in the autumn, during which political parties hold their annual conferences. When they return, a new session is formally opened amid great pomp and ceremony with “the Queen’s speech” announcing the government’s new legislative agenda for the coming year.
But the plan suggested on Wednesday would involve delaying MPs’ return after conference season until October 14, ensuring no parliamentary time could be dedicated to avoiding Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. There is a European Council meeting, dedicated to Brexit, on October 17 and 18.
“Boris Johnson has always threatened he could suspend parliament – he has never ruled it out,” said Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London. “That now looks like exactly what he is going to do.
“It is the most confrontational thing you can imagine he could do in the face of this rebellion.”
Mark Shanahan, the head of the department of politics and international relations at the University of Reading, told Al Jazeera, “This is a power-politic move by Number 10 to push through an agenda that’s all about keeping Boris Johnson in power.”
“The stark reality now is that they may have to align all the forces of opposition to Johnson this week and be ready to strike in the first half of next week. Under parliamentary convention where the government normally sets the agenda in the Commons, that may not be easy and the opposition may have to rely on John Bercow bending tradition even further than he has done before.”
This is politics at its most exciting - but also at its very worst.
Denial and spin
For his part, Johnson said it was “business as usual” and there was no underhand methodology to prevent elected representatives from putting forward legislation.
“All you should take from this is that we must get on now with our domestic agenda,” he said.
Change UK MP Anna Soubry responded: “That is the very clever spin that is being put on this by Mr Johnson and his unelected advisers. No one should be fooled, this is nothing to do with putting forward an agenda. Our country is in crisis.”
With no time to introduce legislation, options are limited for those looking to stop a no-deal Brexit.
“What they can do, and this looks like it might be back on the table, is a confidence vote in the government,” said Al Jazeera’s Lee.
“To pass, it might have to take 20-30 Conservative MPs to rebel against their own party. Do they have the numbers for passing that? Maybe not.”
Prominent figures on the Conservative benches were quick to express their deep concern about the approach Johnson was taking.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond said: “It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.”
Ex-justice secretary David Gauke said it was a “dangerous precedent”.
The announcement of the queen’s speech came after Chancellor Sajid Javid caused speculation about an early election by bringing forward the date of a spending round which is expected to include crowd-pleasing funding boosts for schools and hospitals.
The move could be a sign the Conservatives are preparing for an election if MPs across the Commons opposed to Johnson’s Brexit plans bring down the government through a vote of no confidence.
“There is an irony that the government is acting to strangle debate in parliament – the heart of the UK’s democracy – over a move [Brexit] that is supposed to restore democracy to the nation,” the University of Reading’s Shanahan told Al Jazeera.
“This is politics at its most exciting – but also at its very worst.”