Prorogation: a word for our times by Angela Caldin
There’s a kind of hush over our house now and we are no longer drawn to watching the news at all hours. This is because on Monday 9 September, our prime minister prorogued parliament.
This means he’s shut it down so that for the next few weeks we’ll be spared the sight of Boris Johnson making sexist remarks from the despatch box, of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging arrogantly on the front bench and of the House of Commons flailing around in the mess that is Brexit.
Prorogation is a new word for a lot of us and the process came as a shock. MPs do not vote to prorogue, it’s something that the Queen has the power to do on the advice of the prime minister. It’s not something she can refuse to do, even though it shuts down the democratic process, dramatically reducing the influence of MPs.
If we had only realised it, parliament is normally prorogued once a year for a short period – usually in April or May. During this time, all business stops. MPs keep their seats and ministers remain in position, but no debates or votes are held.
Too long and wrong
This is different from dissolving Parliament when all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election. It’s also different from a recess which is a break in the parliamentary session usually taking place for the conference season from roughly 13 September to 8 October. MPs get to approve recess dates, but are not consulted about prorogation.
We’ve now learnt that it’s normal for a new government to prorogue parliament in order to prepare a Queen’s Speech, which sets out its plans. The length of prorogation varies: in 2016, parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days. This year, parliament will be suspended for 24 working days before the Queen’s Speech on 14 October. Even though parliament would expect to be in recess for 15 of those days for the conference season, the timing is hugely controversial.
Five week haiatus
When the decision to prorogue was first made public, many MPs were concerned it would limit the time available to find ways to block a no-deal Brexit. But even with less parliamentary time, MPs succeeded in passing a law that would extend the Brexit deadline if there isn’t a deal. We are now in limbo, uncertain of whether there will be a deal or no deal. The prime minister says that negotiations to get a deal are going on behind the scenes, but there is little evidence of that.
Surprisingly, to me at least, Johnson has a 10 point lead in the polls in spite of all the mayhem he has caused. It seems that people up and down the country have faith in him to get them out of the EU without further delay. Many don’t care about proroguing and have no interest in getting to grips with such a medieval word. Actually, who can blame them?