Parliament Suspension 2019

PM: Government doing what the people want

Boris Johnson has said “there is a way” of getting a new Brexit deal, as he defended the decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

The PM said “loads of people” wanted an agreement, but he was prepared to leave without one if “absolutely necessary”.

Parliament will not resume sitting until 14 October, three days before a crucial Brexit summit of EU leaders.

The PM, who has met the leadership of Northern Ireland’s DUP, said claims this was undemocratic were “nonsense”.

Amid unprecedented scenes in the Commons early on Tuesday, some MPs protested against the suspension with signs saying “silenced” while shouting: “Shame on you.”

But Mr Johnson rejected claims this was an affront to democracy, saying the opposition parties had been given the chance of an election before the Brexit deadline on 31 October but spurned it.

Some MPs voiced their objection to the suspension in the Commons

Opposition MPs said a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must be enforced first before there could be any election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised a further referendum on Brexit with a “credible Leave option” versus Remain if he wins the next general election – but the party is unlikely to commit to one or the other in its manifesto.

Key sticking point

The prime minister held an hour of talks with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds in Downing Street earlier.

As he left, Mr Dodds told reporters they had held a “very good meeting” and he would be updating party colleagues later.

But earlier a senior figure in the party, which has propped up Theresa May’s government since the 2017 election, said it would not support any revised version of the former PM’s Brexit agreement which separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned any Brexit solution leading to trade borders between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was a “non-runner”.

The Irish border has proved a key sticking point in attempts to agree a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

The government has indicated it could support harmonised rules for the agriculture and food sector to prevent the need for any sanitary and other health checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Brexit: What happened on Monday?

But it has distanced itself from reports that plans for a single EU-UK customs territory in the current withdrawal agreement – rejected three times by MPs – could be replaced with a specific Northern Ireland only “backstop” arrangement.

Sir Jeffrey said a considerable number of Tory MPs would look to the his party to judge the likely success of any new proposals.

“We are plugged into the ongoing discussions about alternative arrangements, we have a significant role to play and, therefore, I would argue that our influence remains,” he told Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“I don’t see the prime minister, who appointed himself as the minister for the Union, agreeing to an arrangement that separates Northern Ireland from Great Britain in trading terms,” he said.

“I think that this idea that you have a Northern Ireland-only backstop where you have a trade border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is simply a non-runner.”

Although official negotiations with the EU have yet to restart, the bloc’s new trade commissioner said it was positive the UK seemed prepared to “accept some level of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.

“I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that there are pragmatic and practical solutions that can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage – albeit at the eleventh hour – that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK,” Ireland’s Phil Hogan told the Irish Times

The prime minister discussed the difference between Sparta and Athens, among other topics, on a trip to a school

Parliament was suspended – or prorogued – at just before 02:00 BST on Tuesday.

As Speaker John Bercow – who earlier announced his resignation,  – was due to lead MPs in a procession to the House of Lords to mark the suspension, a group of angry opposition backbenchers tried to block his way.

Late into the night, MPs also burst into song on the Commons benches, singing traditional Welsh and Scottish songs, Labour anthem Red Flag and hymns like Jerusalem.

During the five-week suspension, parties will hold their annual conferences but no debates, votes or committee scrutiny sessions will take place.

Boris Johnson will not face Prime Minister’s Questions until the period is over and his scheduled questioning by the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday has been cancelled.

Sarah Wollaston, the Lib Dem chair of the committee, said the PM had gone back on earlier “reassurances” that he would appear, telling BBC’s Newsnight she was “appalled” that he was “running away from scrutiny”.

Parliament’s suspension means MPs will not get a third chance to vote for an early election until they return, meaning a poll would not be possible until November at the earliest.

In Monday’s latest vote, 293 MPs backed the prime minister’s motion for an early election, far short of the two thirds needed.

Speaking during a visit to a primary school in London, Mr Johnson dismissed suggestions that suspending Parliament for more than a month was anti-democratic.

“What a load of nonsense. We were very, very clear, that if people wanted a democratic moment, if they wanted an election, we offered it to the Labour opposition and mysteriously they decided not to go for it.”

New legislation, which was granted royal assent on Monday, will force the prime minister to seek a delay until 31 January 2020 unless a deal – or a no-deal exit – is approved by MPs by 19 October.

But Mr Johnson said getting ready to leave the EU on Halloween was among the “people’s priorities”.

He said there “were loads of people around the place”, including in Brussels, who wanted to nail down an agreement but he was willing to leave without a deal “if absolutely necessary”.

“There is a way of getting a deal but it will take a lot of hard work – but we must be prepared to come out without a deal.”

Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru have refused to agree to an election on what they say are “Boris Johnson’s terms”.

Speaking at the TUC Congress on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said “our priority is to stop no deal – and then have a general election”.

He said Labour was “ready to unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen”, but “won’t allow Johnson to dictate the terms” of any poll.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are seeking to put distance between themselves and Labour by saying that if they win power at the next election they would have an “unequivocal” mandate to cancel Brexit entirely.

At their conference on Sunday, members will debate a motion reaffirming their support for a referendum, but also urging the revocation of Article 50 – the legal process for leaving the EU – a week before the Brexit deadline if no deal has been agreed.

For: 293 - Con 279, DUP 10, Ind 3, Lib Dem 1. Against: 46 - Lab 23, Lib Dem 14, Ind 3, Plaid 3, TIGfC 3. Did not vote: 303 - Lab 222, SNP 35, Ind 29, SF 7, Con 6, TIGfC 2, Green 1, Lib Dem 1
Presentational grey line

The prime minister’s self-imposed Halloween Brexit deadline looks further out of reach than a few short days ago.

Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

There is the possibility, still, of a deal, with Number 10 today stressing it was still their primary aim.

Whispers again about a Northern Ireland only backstop, and a bigger role for the Stormont assembly, if it ever gets up and running, are doing the rounds.

Some MPs and some diplomats are more cheerful about the possibilities of it working out.

If you squint, you can see the chance of an agreement being wrapped up at pace, although it seems the chances range somewhere between slim and negligible.

Withdrawal agreement

Theresa May agreed a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure. It included how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights. It also covered the so-called “backstop”, which ensures that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit even if there’s no deal on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period. So-called ‘meaningful votes’ have been held on Theresa May’s deal three times. On all three occasions, MPs rejected the deal.

WTO rules

If countries don’t have free-trade agreements, they usually trade with each other under rules set by the World Trade Organization. Each country sets tariffs – or taxes – on goods entering. For example, cars passing from non-EU countries to the EU are charged at 10% of their value. But tariffs on some agricultural products are much higher – dairy averages more than 35%. If the UK chooses to put no tariffs on goods from the EU, it must also have no tariffs on goods from every WTO member.

No deal

A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK leaving the European Union and cutting ties immediately, with no agreement in place. If MPs do not approve a deal, the UK will leave with no deal on 31 October. The UK would follow World Trade Organization rules to trade with the EU and other countries, while trying to negotiate free-trade deals.

Backstop plan

Currently, there are no border posts, physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The backstop is a measure in the withdrawal agreement, between Theresa May and the EU, which is designed to ensure that continues after the UK leaves the EU. It comes into effect only if the deal deciding the future relationship between the UK and EU is not agreed by the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). Until the deal on the future relationship is done, the backstop would keep the UK effectively inside the EU’s customs union but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market. Critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the United Kingdom and fear that the backstop could become permanent.

Customs union

A trade agreement under which two or more countries do not put tariffs (taxes) on goods coming in from other countries in the union. The countries also decide to set the same tariff on goods entering from outside the union. The EU customs union includes EU member states and some small non-EU members and forbids members from negotiating trade agreements separately from the EU. Instead trade agreements are negotiated collectively.

Irish border

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, it will become the only land border between the UK and the European Union.