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Brexit

Queen dragged into constitutional row as she approves plan to suspend Parliament

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

The Queen has been dragged into Westminster's bitter Brexit battle after Boris Johnson asked her to suspend Parliament for more than a month.

The Prime Minister will temporarily close down the Commons from the second week of September until October 14 when there will be a Queen's Speech to open a new session of Parliament.

The Queen approved the order on Wednesday afternoon to prorogue Parliament no earlier than September 9 and no later than September 12, until October 14.

Opposition leaders have written to the monarch in protest and Commons Speaker John Bercow said the move was a "constitutional outrage" designed to stop Parliament debating Brexit.

Mr Johnson spoke to the Queen on Wednesday morning to request an end to the current parliamentary session - a process known as prorogation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he "protested in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my party" in a letter to the Queen and called for a meeting alongside other opposition members of the Privy Council.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson also wrote to the monarch "to express my concern at Boris Johnson's anti-democratic plan to shut down Parliament".

Mr Bercow - who has repeatedly angered Tory MPs over his approach to Brexit matters in the Commons - interrupted his holiday to launch a tirade against the Prime Minister.

"However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country," Mr Bercow said.

Opposition leaders led by Mr Corbyn agreed at a meeting on Tuesday to use the moment when Parliament returns from its summer break on September 3 to work together on a new law to prevent a no-deal Brexit in response to the Prime Minister's promise to take the UK out of the European Union on October 31, with or without an agreement.

Mr Corbyn accused Mr Johnson of a "smash-and-grab on our democracy in order to force through a no-deal exit from the European Union".

He said: "When Parliament does meet - on his timetable very briefly next week - the first thing we will do is to try and legislate and to prevent what he is doing.

"And secondly to challenge him in a motion of confidence at some point."

The Prime Minister said it was "completely untrue" to suggest that Brexit was the reason for his decision, insisting that he needed a Queen's Speech to set out a "very exciting agenda" of domestic policy.

Mr Johnson also denied the move was to pave the way for an early general election.

But he said it would allow him to bring forward legislation for a new Withdrawal Agreement if a deal can be done with Brussels around the time of the European Council summit on October 17.

"There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit, and all the other issues," Mr Johnson said.

The Commons was expected to sit in the first two weeks of September and then break for the conference recess - although MPs had been planning to vote against leaving Westminster for the autumn party gatherings in late September and early October to allow more time to consider Brexit.

Mr Johnson's move will now ensure that the Commons is not sitting during the period and MPs will return on the day of the Queen's Speech.

In a message to MPs, the Prime Minister said EU leaders were watching their actions and "it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by Parliament".

But there was little sign of unity as critics of Mr Johnson's approach tore into him, with claims of a "very British coup" from shadow chancellor John McDonnell and demands for people to "take to the streets" from Labour frontbencher Clive Lewis.

Prominent figures on the Conservative benches were quick to express their deep concern about the approach Mr Johnson was taking.

Former chancellor Philip Hammond said: "It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the Government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic."

Ex-justice secretary David Gauke said it was a "a dangerous precedent".

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve told the PA news agency he would be prepared to vote to bring down Mr Johnson's Government to block a no-deal Brexit and "I think there are a number of colleagues who have said exactly the same thing".

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lords Leader Baroness Evans and Chief Whip Mark Spencer were sent to Balmoral for a Privy Council meeting with the Queen to approve the timetable.

Parliament will be suspended no earlier than September 9 and no later than September 12 until October 14.

MPs hit out at the position Mr Johnson had put the Queen in.

Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper said he was "trying to use the Queen to concentrate power in his own hands" while fellow ex-Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw said the move would "drag the monarch into an unprecedented constitutional crisis".

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Unless MPs come together to stop him next week, today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy."

The announcement of the Queen's Speech came after Chancellor Sajid Javid fuelled speculation about an early election by bringing forward the date of the spending round which is expected to include crowd-pleasing funding boosts for schools and hospitals.