The prorogation of parliament in the UK, simply put, is the suspension of the House of Commons. Pretty much all unfinished legislation from the parliamentary session stops progressing, but it can be reintroduced in the next session.
It happens nearly every year for a few days in the autumn to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences.
But shuttering Parliament for more than a month, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested in an apparent bid to restrict MPs from pushing through legislation preventing the UK from crashing out of the European Union without a deal, is almost unprecedented.
When Parliament reconvenes with all the pomp and ceremony of the state opening, the queen gives a speech – written by or on behalf of the prime minister – outlining the government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming parliamentary session.
Prorogation once stemmed from the monarchy. Kings of old would prorogue Parliament to stop MPs from over-reaching and interfering with what the royal court wanted to do.
Famously, King Charles I attempted to prorogue Parliament in 1628 when MPs started to voice opposition to him. When they refused to leave the chamber, Charles had several leading parliamentarians imprisoned and ruled directly for 11 years. In the English Civil War that followed, he led his troops against the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments.
He was beheaded in 1649, having lost.
Since then, suspending Parliament for political ends has been somewhat frowned upon.
It happened in 1831 during the crisis that surrounded the Reform Act, which saw sweeping changes to suffrage and widened access to democracy. In 1948, it was used to negate efforts made by the House of Lords to block a series of reforms to the UK’s upper chamber of Parliament. And in 1997, it was used as an attempt to avoid a cash-for-questions debate during a scandal over MPs being bribed to bring up subjects in the House of Commons.
Prorogueing Parliament to allow the clock to tick down on a “no-deal” Brexit is likely to come with legal challenges. Johnson has repeatedly promised that Britain would leave the EU with or without a deal – “do or die” in his words – on October 31.
“Beyond Parliament, the government’s right to drive through its no-deal agenda – which, of course, is currently UK law – is being challenged in the Scottish courts, which sit in September, with a hearing due on September 6,” Mark Shanahan, head of the Department of Politics at the University of Reading, told Al Jazeera.
“Johnson’s move could suspend Parliament before the case – which alleges it is illegal for the government to suspend parliament – adding further confusion and uncertainty to the already murky situation.”