Boris Johnson Suspends Parliament Ahead of Brexit in “Shameless and Brazen Attack” on U.K. Democracy

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The United Kingdom is in uproar after Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the queen to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament from mid-September to mid-October, leaving little time for lawmakers to avoid a disastrous no-deal Brexit when the country exits the European Union on October 31. Thousands took to the streets in London and across the country Wednesday to protest the move. We speak with Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media, who describes Johnson’s latest move as unprecedented, calling it “the most shameless and brazen attack on the British democratic process” in decades. “The unspoken rule of the British constitution is that you don’t ask the queen to get involved in political matters. … Boris Johnson has thrown that unspoken rule completely out of the window,” she says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to the United Kingdom, where the country is in an uproar after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he’s suspending Britain’s Parliament, increasing the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. The queen consented to Johnson’s plan Wednesday. Parliament will be closed from mid-September to mid-October. This means lawmakers who oppose a no-deal exit from the European Union would have very limited time to pass legislation supporting any other measures. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union on October 31st. If Parliament fails to agree to a Brexit deal by that deadline, the U.K. will crash out of the EU with no deal, a scenario that would have severe economic and political repercussions. This is Boris Johnson speaking Wednesday.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We’re not going to wait until October the 31st before getting on with our plans to take this country forward. … If you look at what we’re doing, we’re bringing forward a new legislative program on crime, on hospitals, and making sure that we have the education funding that we need. And there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October the 17th summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues. Ample time.

AMY GOODMAN: The announcement has sparked widespread outrage throughout Britain. On Wednesday, Britain’s main Labour opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he’s written to the queen to express concerns about plans to suspend Parliament.

JEREMY CORBYN: Suspending Parliament is not acceptable. It’s not on. What the prime minister is doing is a sort of smash-and-grab on our democracy in order to force through a no-deal exit from the European Union. What’s he so afraid of that he needs to suspend Parliament to prevent Parliament discussing these matters?

AMY GOODMAN: Britain’s Labour opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile, thousands around Britain are taking to the streets. This is protester Marion Sharples in London.

MARION SHARPLES: I just think it’s just incredibly disrespectful that he, that Boris Johnson, that the government think that it can be passed on as normal practice. It’s absolutely a tactic. It’s absolutely a tactic to limit the amount of time that MPs have to debate this, and to push through a no-deal Brexit and take back control.

AMY GOODMAN: A U.K. petition opposing Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament has gathered nearly 1.5 million signatures. Prime Minister Johnson was sworn in as the new British prime minister in July. His election was the first time a party’s membership directly chose the prime minister. The membership of the Conservative Party, who voted for Johnson, represents less than 1% of the British population. Guardian journalist Owen Jones wrote in a column Wednesday, quote, “Call the suspension of parliament what it is: a coup d’état by an unelected prime minister,” he said.

Well, for more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media.

Ash Sarkar, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, your reaction to what just took place?

ASH SARKAR: My first reaction was to be very grateful that we’ve got an NHS, because I want to be medically induced into a coma, if possible. This represents the most shameless and brazen attack on the British democratic process that has happened for decades. And while proroguing Parliament, suspending Parliament, has happened before by governments who want to get around a sticky patch in Westminster politics, this is the first time it’s ever occurred in order to circumvent parliamentary scrutiny of an issue of the importance and the gravitas of Brexit. So it really is quite an astonishing assault on the conventions of representative democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you explain what Johnson gets out of this? And again, he had to request this of the queen, who assented.

ASH SARKAR: OK, so let me talk you through the queen bit first. In this country, we don’t have what you have, which is a constitution which is written down. Instead, what we’ve got is a constitution which works on people generally agreeing to abide by unspoken rules and, when in doubt, look to the past and see what precedent has to offer you. So, like I said, Parliament has been prorogued before, so there is precedent for this kind of thing. The last time a government prorogued Parliament to get around a sticky bit of parliamentary scrutiny was in 1997. Another time that it happened was in 1948. So, precedent does allow for this kind of thing to happen.

But the unspoken rule of the British constitution is that you don’t ask the queen to get involved in political matters. The precedent is that she cannot say no to her government, but the unspoken rule is: Don’t ask her to get involved. Boris Johnson has thrown that unspoken rule completely out of the window, because this is a proroguing which overrides the wishes of MPs who want to scrutinize the process of leaving the European Union. So, it really is a way of saying, “I’m not going to give you the opportunity to present legislation that could derail a no-deal Brexit, and I also don’t want to give you the opportunity to call me to committees to scrutinize government papers or plans. Really what I want to do is have a month-long steamroller going through mid-September to mid-October, which takes us that bit closer to October 31st, the day at which we leave the European Union by default.”

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what a no-deal Brexit would look like, compared to a Brexit with a deal.

ASH SARKAR: So, every form of Brexit has some form of economic disruption, as it’s bound to. We’re leaving a trading bloc which has been one of the prime sources of U.K. trade since we entered it. So, even the softest possible Brexit, where you’ve got single market access and a customs union, has a little bit of a hit for the economy. But a no-deal Brexit is where every single agreement we have, with not just the European Union, but the trading partners that we have through the European union, evaporates overnight. And what that means is we will have tariffs on our imports. That means that the price of food is going to go up. The price of fuel is going to go up, because, obviously, we rely quite heavily on imports. It means that there are going to be tariffs on our exports. So, our already fragile manufacturing sector — so, for instance, you know, the sale of cars — that’s going to take a huge hit. The baseline prediction is that there will be a contraction of our economy by 8%. That is going to hit the poorest and those on the lowest incomes the hardest.

The other thing is that there are political consequences to this, as well. Leaving the European Union without any other form of agreement means that there will be a hard border in Ireland. Now, of course, the Good Friday Agreement was calibrated so that this wouldn’t happen, because a hard border would risk the return of sectarian violence to Ireland and Northern Ireland. So, a no-deal Brexit puts that quite fragile peace at risk in Ireland.

People have been talking also about shortages of medicine. A lot of our medicine here in the U.K. is imported from EU countries, even if they’re just as close by as the Republic of Ireland or indeed France. So, there will be medical shortages at least for six months. And this is coming from the government’s own impact assessments. When pressed on the matter, Tory ministers could not guarantee that people wouldn’t die because of a no-deal Brexit.

So, this is where we are at the minute in the U.K. We’re facing half a million job losses. We’re facing medical shortages which put lives at risk. And for what? For one Eton-educated millionaire to stay in the job that he wanted ever since he was a little boy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we just heard that the Conservative Party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, has just resigned. What is the significance of this?

ASH SARKAR: This is pretty significant, because Ruth Davidson has been credited with keeping that small segment of Conservative voters in Scotland, many of whom are Remain supporters onside. Without Ruth Davidson, it’s likely that the Scottish Conservatives will face electoral annihilation at the next general election. She knows that proroguing Parliament is a very divisive mood. It doesn’t go well with her base. And also it’s against her own personal political instincts. One of the things to remember is that when Boris Johnson was campaigning to be the Conservative Party leader, and therefore prime minister, he was going around making assurances to Conservatives like Ruth Davidson that he would not countenance proroguing Parliament. Yesterday, he went back on his word. Now, Ruth Davidson has decided that that is a betrayal of trust too far. She cannot in good conscience still be leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

But then, also there are members of the government, like Lord Young, who have said, “We’re not putting up with this.” However, most of the Cabinet ministers who occupy the most important offices of state — so, Sajid Javid, who’s our chancellor of the exchequer; Matt Hancock, who’s our health secretary; Amber Rudd, who is the minister for work and pensions — all of them have in the past few weeks said that they would not entertain proroguing Parliament, that they are firmly against a no-deal Brexit. However, since Boris Johnson pulled that lever yesterday, they have been saying nothing. They would much rather preserve their own jobs and personal importance than protect the jobs of ordinary working people up and down the U.K.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, claims that he’s suspending Parliament actually to move forward on his domestic legislative agenda. What is that?

ASH SARKAR: That’s a lie, Amy. It’s just straight-up a lie. The reason why he is suspending Parliament is for one reason and one reason only. The day before he announced this move, Jeremy Corbyn organized the leaders of the other opposition parties — the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, the Welsh National Party called Plaid Cymru — and together they had finally agreed a strategy to block a no-deal Brexit. They would pursue legislative means, so, for instance, passing legislation that would force Boris Johnson to seek an extension of Article 50 from the EU, or, indeed, to block some of the funding that’s been put aside to create a kind of buffer in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That had been agreed the day before. So, if you imagine it like a game of soccer, you’ve got one team which has finally got its defensive line in order, and Boris Johnson, instead of trying to play the ball towards the goal again, has picked up the ball, walked off the pitch and said, “Eh, let’s play again in a few weeks’ time.”

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, 35 days into Boris Johnson’s prime ministership, the Financial Times editorial board has had enough and declared its openness to the previously unthinkable: The capitalist paper of record entertained the possibility of Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn as the United Kingdom’s next head of state, rather than keeping Boris Johnson in power. Can you respond to this, Ash?

ASH SARKAR: I mean, it’s often said, “May you live in interesting times.” And certainly these are times which I never thought that I would live through. I think what this goes to show is that no-deal Brexit, which is a symptom of the collapse of the Conservative Party’s orthodoxy, isn’t necessarily in keeping with the interests of the financial establishment, because it is such a hit to the economy. And it’s such a hit to the economy, that you’re right, that you’ve got the paper of, you know, the capitalist classes saying, “You know what? We’ll take the socialist, who wants to redistribute a bit of wealth, over the guy who wants to contract our economy by 8%.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. Ash Sarkar, I want to thank you so much for being with us, senior editor at Novara Media.

When we come back, we remember the legendary peace activist Frances Crowe, who died at the age of 100 in Northampton, Massachusetts. And that number, 100, is probably around the number of times she was arrested. Stay with us.

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