Brexit – all you need to know about Britain’s current political scenario6 min read
On Wednesday, August 28, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned to the Queen to prorogue the British Parliament for a period of five weeks, thus limiting the number of days they had left to challenge the United Kingdom’s (UK) leaving of the European Union (EU).
A ‘prorogation’ is the suspension of Parliament for a short period of time, usually done once a year in British politics. The process brings an end to most parliamentary work for that session, with some bills and motions being carried into the next. The new session reconvenes with the Queen’s speech and the State Opening of Parliament.
This unusual move by PM Johnson has brought further attention to Brexit globally, with stark reactions from his own cabinet. John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, called the Prime Minister’s decision a “constitutional outrage,” while Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, claimed it to be “reckless.”
PM Johnson, pro-Brexit from the start, stated that he aims for Brexit to take place by October 31 with or without a deal.
What is Brexit?
Brexit, a portmanteau of the words “British” and “exit”, refers to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. This decision was taken after the results of a referendum (a vote by the voting population on a single voting question) held on June 23, 2016, in which 51.9% of the voting population supported the exit.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, who was serving at the time the referendum took place, triggered Article-50 – the mechanism for leaving the EU and kicked off negotiations. However, since her deal was voted down by the Parliament three times, she was forced to resign.
Since then, Britain’s current prime minister Boris Johnson has been urging for Brexit to take place. After being delayed from its due date on March 29, PM Johnson is now insistent on the UK’s withdrawal by October 31, irrespective of whether a deal is established or not.
If the UK leaves as planned, it would be the very first member state to leave the EU.
Meanwhile, citizens of the UK have taken to online petitions and public protests to call for Article-50 to be revoked.
What is Article-50?
Article-50 is the only legal mechanism for any member state of the European Union to leave. It states: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
It was agreed upon by all EU members and introduced as a seemingly vague 250-word paragraph in the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. The article lists out all steps that a country has to go through to be able to depart from its treaty obligations.
It specifies that in order to leave the EU, the member country should notify the European Council of its intention, negotiate a deal on its withdrawal and establish legal grounds for a future relationship with the Union.
Only the member country can trigger the article and it cannot be forced to do so by any other EU state. Upon this action, the 27 member countries would meet to discuss the terms of Britain’s withdrawal. The EU member nations would need to approve the terms with a majority vote during a two year period.
Article-50 was invoked by Theresa May in 2017.
The UK is the only country to have ever invoked Article-50.
What makes a “soft” or “hard” Brexit?
In essence, there are two possible kinds of Brexit: a “soft” and “hard”. The kind of Brexit that occurs will determine the consequences.
The former tends to be favoured by those who voted to stay in the EU, while the latter is favoured by those who voted to leave.
A hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the EU single market and its legal rules, along with not being subject to the European Court of Justice and Europol – the EU’s law enforcement bodies. The UK would no longer have to contribute to the EU budget of 9 billion dollars and would be able to sign free trade deals with other countries. This arrangement would prioritise the UK’s full control over its legal borders.
This kind of Brexit, however, could also see the British goods and services subject to tariffs, while sectors such as agriculture could lose protections against cheap imports from abroad. Amidst repercussions on trade between the UK and EU, a hard Brexit is expected to have a negative impact on the British economy.
A soft deal, on the other hand, involves a Brexit arrangement which keeps the UK’s relationship with the EU as close to the existing arrangement. Under this, the UK would no longer be a member of the EU, lose its seat on the European council and lose its European commissioner. It would, however, still have unrestricted access to the European single market.
What does no deal mean?
In the event that British politicians fail to reach an agreement by October 31, there will be a no-deal Brexit, seeing no softening of the blow on trade deals. PM Johnson’s government has pledged £2.1 billion ($2.57 billion) to plan for a such a “no deal” scenario.
How does the prorogation of Parliament affect the Brexit deal?
Boris Johnson’s move may be seen as undemocratic; designed to force through a hard Brexit.
As the prorogation of the Parliament takes law-making time away from the Parliament members, its length would affect the rebel MPs options as they would have less time to pass any no deal legislation.
Could the Queen have refused the request?
The Queen has the power to refuse the government’s request under the royal prerogative. However, in reality, it would have been really difficult for her to do so as the Queen acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.
PM Johnson’s justification for the move
The Prime Minister stated that the suspension would allow him to focus on his very “exciting agenda,” such as funding national health service and tackling violent crime.
Boris Johnson’s move is highly being regarded as an attempt to not let the MPs have a say in how Brexit plays out.
Reaction to the prorogation
Boris Johnson’s move faced significant backlash from MPs and citizens alike.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted that the move was an “utterly scandalous affront to democracy,” while Conservative MP and People’s Vote advocate Dominic Grieve called it “an outrageous act.”
On September 3, Conservative MP Phillip Lee defected and joined the Labour Party as a protest to Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament, leaving the government without a majority.
Challenges to Johnson’s decision were also filed in separate courts by a cross-party group of 70 MPs. There was also an online petition calling for the reversal of Johnson’s decision surpassed 1.4 million signatures within an hour of its launch.
The tussles over Brexit deals has brought about questions of whether PM Johnson’s move was constitutional. These, in turn, sparked a larger debate about whether all constitutional norms are democratic. Not only has the move furthered the already existing dialogue about the best possible version Brexit, but it has also sparked conversation about the nature of democracy and whether constitutional norms are always democratic. In the midst of these politically and economically restless times, the reactions of the people continue to vary.
At the end of a three-day legal deliberation on September 19 over whether Johnson’s actions were unconstitutional, the current prime minister refused to rule out another prorogation if the Supreme Court declared it so.
Featured Image Courtesy: P Sidhadh Binu
Edited by: Rayna Lele