For the vast majority of people, mention the word ‘proroguing’ and their eyes start to glaze over.
It’s hardly a rock and roll phrase, and for the most part nobody actually has a clue what it means. I’m going to hopefully try and address that here.
The good news is that it seems unlikely that Boris Johnson’s plan to prorogue parliament if – when – he becomes Prime Minister will prove successful.
What is Proroguing?
The process of shutting down Parliament for a specific timeframe and purpose is called proroguing, and it’s a power that the Prime Minister can use in certain circumstances.
This usually happens each year for a short time in April or May, but it is rare for proroguing to be actioned outside of this window.
During the prorogue all business in Parliament ‘stops’. MPs retain their seats and remain in position, but there are no debates and no votes held. Any laws that haven’t been confirmed by the time the proroguing starts either cease to exist or carry over to the next parliamentary session.
How Does Proroguing Occur?
Proroguing is a unilateral decision taken by the Queen, or whoever the reigning monarch is at the time.
They have the sole discretion to allow it or not, taking advice from the prime minister of the time.
So if the PM has a burning reason to shut down Parliament, he or she can go to the Queen and ask for a prorogue – the monarch will hear what they have to say and make a decision accordingly.
Why is Proroguing in the News?
As we know, a new prime minister will be appointed shortly, with Boris Johnson the man heading for 10 Downing Street unless he does something stupid in the next couple of weeks (which is distinctly possible).
As a known advocate of a No Deal Brexit, BoJo is presumably already considering the possibility of proroguing Parliament later this year – a move which would remove the power of his fellow MPs to block any such move via a vote of no confidence.
Most politicians in the House are opposed to a No Deal, and so Boris will have to seek devious means to get any such policy over the line. He has already said that ‘nothing if off the table’ as he seeks to get the UK out of the EU in as quick a timeframe as possible.
Brexit Day, years in the making, is scheduled for October 31, so Johnson could appeal to the Queen for a prorogue in the lead-up to Halloween.
So Will That Actually Happen?
Following a landmark vote this week, the answer is probably not.
MPs have already got together in a bid to stop Johnson forcing a No Deal through, with a majority of 41 approving an amendment tabled that would block a prorogue from occurring between October 9 and December 18 – unless a Northern Ireland executive is formed.
The full House vote saw 315 block the suspension of Parliament, including 17 Conservative rebels – including Margot James, who subsequently handed in her resignation.
Those who abstained, which include Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart and the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, did so to protect their reputations in the party. In other circumstances, they would have voted against proroguing.
So in short, Boris will not be able to ask for a prorogue unless the Northern Irish party the DUP comes to his aid.
Why is a No Deal Brexit Such a Bad Thing?
It depends who you ask, of course, but the economist’s view is that a No Deal scenario would be a disaster for British business.
It has also been hinted that a No Deal would temporarily force the UK back into a recession – which in turn would increase the amount of public borrowing.
That’s according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) anyway, who believe borrowing could exceed £60bn if Johnson is allowed to force through his plan – an increase of around £30bn compared to a situation if a deal with the EU is brokered.
A No Deal would leave the UK without a recognised trade agreement, which could force tariffs as high as 4% on goods traded with the European Union – an increase from the current 0% level.
These heightened trade barriers would weigh heavily on exports, which would see the price of the pound falling sharply – according to the OBR’s assessments.
The next chain in this sequence of events would be increased inflation and lower ‘real’ incomes, which in turn would lead to public sector borrowing and a national debt as much as 12% higher by 2024.