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Prorogation: How did the government suspend Parliament?

Boris JohnsonImage copyright Reuters

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the decision to suspend Parliament, only days after MPs returned to Westminster, was unlawful.

But why was Parliament shut down in the first place?

How did the prime minister close Parliament?

The official term for shutting down Parliament is “proroguing”.

MPs do not vote to prorogue – it’s a power that rests with the Queen, done on the advice of the prime minister.

So, it is within Boris Johnson’s gift to ask the Queen to shut Parliament.

However, even though the Queen agreed to the request, legal proceedings were brought against the government.

Why was it controversial?

Normally, after a period of prorogation, Parliament reopens with a Queen’s Speech. This is when the government outlines its priorities for the upcoming year.

Usually, this process is extremely straightforward. In fact, the House of Commons Library says proroguing has been a formality in the UK for more than a century.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The power to prorogue Parliament rests with the Queen, done on the advice of the prime minister.

But the decision to prorogue – just weeks before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU – brought the Queen into the Brexit dispute.

Critics also said the reason Parliament was shut down was to minimise the opportunities to block a no-deal Brexit.

The government defended its action, saying it had nothing to do with Brexit. It argued proroguing Parliament was a “proceeding in Parliament” and would allow the PM to outline plans for domestic policies, like NHS funding.

However, the Supreme Court ruled against it. It said prorogation was unlawful because it stopped Parliament from being able to its job “without reasonable justification”.

How did the Supreme Court consider the case?

Two of the UK’s highest courts, one in England and one in Scotland, had already looked at whether prorogation was legal – only to come to opposite conclusions.

The matter was settled by the UK Supreme Court.

It heard two appeals over three days, one from the anti-Brexit campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, and one from the government.

Delivering its conclusions, the Supreme Court’s president, Lady Hale, said: “The effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme.”

She added: “The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”

How long was the government intending to prorogue?

Before the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, Parliament was due to be suspended for 24 working days. The government had planned to reopened Parliament with a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

That would have been a much longer prorogation than usual. In 2016, for example, Parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days.

Will Parliament be opened?

Not only was the decision to suspend Parliament unlawful, the Supreme Court also declared that “parliament is not prorogued.”

This means MPs and peers will be able to sit again. Any laws that did not complete their passage through Parliament will now be resurrected.

The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, says the chamber “must convene without delay”. He says this will be on Wednesday.

Content provided by the BBC. Original piece can be found here

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