The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

What are the Implications of proroguing Parliament?

28th August 2019

Lessons from England's history | by Sophie Massey

During his campaign, Boris Johnson made it very clear that when it comes to proroguing Parliament, he is “not going to take anything off the table”. Today [n.b. 28th August 2019] it appears that the PM is moving forth with that line of thought, in an effort to curtail efforts from Parliament to block a no-deal Brexit.

But what does that move actually mean in practice, and what did happen the last time that Parliament was prorogued?

Shutting down Parliament would mean that all MPs will be dismissed and all questions to the Prime Minister would be left unanswered. Britain would effectively be under the control of one person for a short period of time. The last time there was such an action, it resulted in a civil war.

It is imperative that we use historical events as a lesson to prevent such appalling outcomes from being relived. Charles I continuously ruled without the approval of Parliament until 1629 when he dismissed them, leading to the ’11 Years Tyranny’. This is self-explanatory in expressing the public’s distaste at the King’s actions. A critical point for Charles was when war with Scotland broke out and he needed the financial support from Parliament to fight. Inevitably, his request was not welcome; instead he received the ‘Grand Remonstrance’.

This contained 204 complaints about his leadership, resulting in the attempted arrest of five leading MPs. Following this, war broke out. The most crucial aspect of this was the fact that Parliament had the support of the whole of the South East, the Merchants and the Navy. Charles’ fate was execution. This makes it clear that the public were not happy with his autocratic leading and did not hesitate to show it.

Our Prime Minister needs to ensure he doesn’t replicate the errors made by Charles I. So far Parliament has clearly shown it has little appetite for a no deal Brexit and neither does the business world, nor a very big majority of the UK population. It would, therefore, have been imperative that Boris Johnson had the widest possible consent of the people, before making such a bold move. The events of the early 17th century must teach us why proroguing Parliament could be catastrophic. The results of such a behaviour could mean that Boris Johnson, whilst being unfathomable to lose his head in this day and age, might lose his job.

The wider implications of Boris Johnson’s plans could be far more devastating for Britain as a whole, than just for his personal ambition. British society is already fairly divided over Brexit. Tensions are rising over what type of Brexit should be undergone: ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’; it is evident that many factors lead a country into a civil war, yet it would be a simple conclusion to draw that proroguing Parliament for a no deal Brexit, Britain’s ‘Remainers’ will feel heightened frustration at those who voted for the UK to pursue such fate in 2016. Accentuating tension is not something a Prime Minister should encourage. Surely it is all too apparent that forcing a fatal Brexit through to prove a point does not suffice for severe public unrest and a failing economy? The dangers of proroguing Parliament evidently outweigh the short-term prestige Boris would gain from finally completing Brexit.

A no deal Brexit could be deleterious for Britain. The most prominent effects will be on trade; almost 30% of our food comes from EU countries and our GDP could drop by up to 7%. The infamous Erasmus programme where adolescents can study abroad is funded by the EU. By leaving without a deal we may lose funding, this will mean future students may not have the opportunity to gain this valuable experience.

Whilst it may be refreshing for Britain to be fed optimism, PM Johnson needs to manifest realism. Success needs to be long term and genuinely beneficial for the country. Not only would proroguing Parliament mean increased probability of a no deal Brexit, it will elevate domestic tensions possibly to a dangerous point.

Boris Johnson needs only to look to history for the potential consequences of such an act.

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