Parliament Suspension 2019

Brexit: What happened on Monday?

Parliament has officially been suspended for five weeks, with MPs not due back until 14 October.

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

It comes after PM Boris Johnson’s bid to call a snap election in October was defeated for a second time.

Opposition MPs refused to back it, insisting a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must be implemented first.

In all, 293 MPs voted for the prime minister’s motion for an early election, far short of the two thirds needed.

Mr Johnson will be holding a meeting with his cabinet in Downing Street later this morning.

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 appeared to try to block his way.

House of Commons on Tuesday early hours of morning
Doorkeepers had to intervene when one MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, appeared to hold on to Speaker Bercow

Late into the night, MPs also burst into song on the Commons benches, singing traditional Welsh and Scottish songs.

It is normal for new governments to suspend Parliament – it allows them to schedule a Queen’s Speech to set out a fresh legislative programme – but the length and timing of the prorogation in this case has sparked controversy.

Meanwhile, on a hectic day of political developments:

  • The prime minister also suffered another defeat, as MPs backed calls for the publication of government communications relating to the suspension of Parliament and its no-deal plans
  • Mr Johnson was warned he could face legal action for flouting the law blocking no deal;
    MPs approved, without a vote, a motion from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanding the government abide by the rule of law.

Strive to get agreement’

At present, UK law states that the country will leave the EU on 31 October, regardless of whether a withdrawal deal has been agreed with Brussels or not.

But new legislation, which was granted royal assent on Monday, changes that, and 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.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said although No 10 insisted it was not looking to break the new law, efforts were under way to examine ways of getting around it.

Mr Johnson said the government would use the time Parliament was suspended to press on with negotiating a deal with the EU, while still “preparing to leave without one”.

“No matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest,” he said.

“This government will not delay Brexit any further.”

But he was warned that ignoring the new law could prompt a legal challenge, while some ministers called it “lousy” and said they would “test to the limit” what it required of them.

Mr Johnson told MPs Mr Corbyn had previously said he would back an election if legislation to prevent the government from forcing through a no-deal Brexit on 31 October became law.

“By his own logic, he must now back an election.”

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

But the Labour leader told MPs his party was “eager for an election – but as keen as we are, we are not prepared to risk inflicted the disaster of no deal on our communities, our jobs, our services or indeed our rights”.

And he said the prime minister was suspending Parliament to avoid discussions of his plans.

Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru had met on Monday morning and agreed not to back the motion for an election.

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

Tory rebel Sir Oliver Letwin, who last week defied Mr Johnson, to vote to block a no-deal outcome, told BBC Radio 4 Today he believed there was now a majority in the Commons to back another referendum.

Asked whether the prime minister would back a further vote, Mr Letwin replied: “Boris has often changed his mind about many things and that’s one of his advantages, that he’s very flexible so maybe he can.”

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.

Meanwhile, MPs backed calls, by 311 votes to 302, for the publication of government communications relating to the suspension of Parliament and no-deal Brexit plans, known as Operation Yellowhammer.

Former Conservative Dominic Grieve, the newly independent MP who tabled the motion, told MPs it was “entirely reasonable” to ask for the disclosure “so the House can understand the risks involved and this can be communicated more widely to the public”.

But cabinet minister Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, said he had given evidence to the EU select committee on Yellowhammer and he hoped “those assurances were sufficient”.

Michael Gove
Minister Michael Gove said he had given evidence to the EU select committee on Yellowhammer

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox questioned the legal right of the government to require employees – including the PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings – to open up their private email accounts and personal mobiles to scrutiny.

After the vote, a government spokesman said it would “consider the implications and respond in due course”.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson held talks with Leo Varadkar in Dublin,  his first meeting with the Irish prime minister since he entered No 10.

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

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.