London • Normally, in times of national crisis, British leaders convene Parliament. But as the country confronts its biggest crisis in many decades, Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems intent on doing the opposite.
On Wednesday, Johnson threw the Brexit debate into new turmoil by shortening the already dwindling time Parliament has left to try to prevent a potentially chaotic no-deal departure from the European Union. Opposition politicians denounced the move to limit the time for debate as undemocratic and possibly unconstitutional.
Johnson’s startling maneuver to tighten Parliament’s schedule in October set the stage for a heated compressed showdown with Parliament as the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit bears down.
The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called Johnson’s decision a “constitutional outrage.” Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, denounced it as “reckless,” while the party’s finance policy spokesman, John McDonnell, called it a “very British coup.”
“Whatever one’s views on Brexit, once you allow a Prime Minister to prevent the full and free operation of our democratic institutions you are on a very precarious path,” McDonnell wrote on Twitter.
Parliament was scheduled to meet during the first two weeks of September and then to be suspended for annual political party conferences. It was then scheduled to reconvene around Oct. 9.
But in a letter sent Wednesday to all members of Parliament, Johnson said he intended to ask Queen Elizabeth II to “prorogue,” or suspend, Parliament for around a further week and to have it resume on Oct. 14, with the “Queen’s speech,” in which the monarch traditionally lays out the government’s agenda.
The monarch’s approval is considered a formality, and hours after the announcement, the government said that the queen had approved the request.
In a video interview Wednesday morning, Johnson said he had made his decision in order to progress with “our plans to take this country forward” and to “get on with our domestic agenda.”
But his ploy is risky. Just how risky became clear Tuesday evening with reports that the widely admired Conservative leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, unable to defend Johnson’s Brexit policies, was on the verge of resigning.