UK speaker to step down by Oct 31

UK parliament suspension set to begin after MPs vote on election

Agence France-Presse . London | Published: 00:00, Sep 10,2019

 
 

Britain’s parliament will be suspended for five weeks on Monday following another expected defeat by MPs for prime minister Boris Johnson as he battles to salvage his hardline Brexit strategy amid fierce opposition in Westminster.

The controversial suspension will begin shortly after MPs are set to vote again against Johnson’s bid to hold a snap election next month — two weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union.

‘Parliament will be prorogued at close of business today,’ Johnson’s spokesman said at a daily briefing, using the parliamentary term for the suspension.

He added it would happen regardless of the outcome of the vote on the October 15 poll.

Meanwhile, John Bercow, the speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, announced Monday that he would step down within weeks, amid criticism by Brexit hardliners who say he has twisted parliamentary rules to undermine them.

Bercow said he would not stand again if MPs vote in favour of an early general election —and if they do not, as seems likely, he would resign on October 31: the scheduled date for Brexit.

Bercow has served as speaker of parliament’s lower chamber for 10 years, overseeing heated debates on Brexit and making decisions as to what the house should do, based on centuries of precedent.

‘If the house votes tonight for an early general election, my tenure as speaker and MP will end when this parliament ends,’ Bercow told the chamber.

‘If the house does not so vote, I have concluded that the least disruptive and most democratic course of action would be for me to stand down at the close of business on Thursday, October 31.’

Johnson held talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin before returning to the parliamentary turmoil later Monday.

He ordered the shutdown in an apparent bid to stymie a cross-party block of MPs opposed to a possible no-deal Brexit.

The British leader has vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the latest October 31 deadline with or without a formal divorce deal — despite warnings that the latter scenario would entail economic chaos.

However, the planned suspension has provoked uproar from opposition MPs and Conservative critics, who have labelled the move a constitutional outrage.

It appeared to backfire by galvanising them into passing legislation last week — expected to receive royal assent on Monday — that forces Johnson to seek a Brexit delay if he fails to reach a deal at an October 17-18 EU summit.

Johnson responded to the proposed law by trying to force the early general election, but fell short in a vote last week of the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs.

He will try again later Monday in another vote widely expected to fail.

Opposition party leaders, who met Monday, have vowed to keep blocking the snap poll until Brexit has been extended beyond October 31.

‘He has got to ask for an extension,’ Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News.

‘We will do everything we can to prevent us crashing out on October 31 and will support an election when it is clear we will avoid that crashing out.’

Johnson met Varadkar on Monday hoping to lay the groundwork for new divorce terms as he finds himself increasingly cornered just six weeks after taking over from his predecessor Theresa May.

The British leader wants the bloc to scrap a special provision in the deal agreed by May to keep the Northern Irish border open in all circumstances after Brexit, arguing ‘alternative arrangements’ exist.

But Brussels and Dublin have insisted the so-called backstop mechanism must remain in place to guarantee no return to a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland, which suffered decades of deadly sectarian violence.

They say Johnson is also yet to propose the details of any workable alternatives.

‘While they agreed that the discussions are at an early stage, common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain,’ the two leaders said in a joint statement following an hour of talks.

Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament until October 14 and his promise to do Brexit come what may have rattled his ruling Conservative Party.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs including Winston Churchill’s grandson were sacked last week for voting in favour of the law aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit.

The dismissals and the defection of one MP to the Liberal Democrats left him without a working majority.

Several members of his government have also quit, including his own brother.

A government minister rejected speculation Sunday that Johnson had no real option but to resign.

But he could not say clearly how he intended to keep all his Brexit promises without somehow bending UK law.

‘Of course he is not going to break the law,’ foreign minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.

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