Brexit: What is proroguing Parliament?

Big Ben and a no entry sign Image copyright Getty Images

Sir John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister, has threatened to use the courts to try to stop the next prime minister from shutting down Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit.

Most MPs are against leaving the EU without a deal and could try to stop it from happening.

The new prime minister could try to get round this by closing Parliament in the run-up to Brexit day, which is currently scheduled to be 31 October.

Boris Johnson – who wants to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister – has repeatedly refused to rule out such a move.

So how could it work?

How is Parliament normally closed?

The official term for shutting down Parliament is “proroguing” and it normally happens once a year for a short period – usually in April or May.

During this time, all business stops, so most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death (although some may be “carried over” to the next session).

MPs keep their seats and ministers remain in position – but no debates and votes are held in Parliament.

This is different to “dissolving” Parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.

So could a prime minister force Parliament to close?

In theory, yes.

MPs do not vote to prorogue, it’s a power that rests with the Queen – done on the advice of the prime minister.

So a prime minister determined to force a no-deal Brexit could, in theory, ask the Queen to shut Parliament to dramatically reduce the influence of MPs.

With Parliament not sitting, MPs would not be able to block a no-deal Brexit – for example, by holding of a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

Jeremy Hunt, one of the leadership candidates, has categorically ruled out proroguing Parliament.

But, Boris Johnson, on the other hand, says he would “not take anything off the table”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Unlike his rival Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson has not ruled out the possibility of closing Parliament
Why would it be controversial?

It would bring the Queen right into the heart of the Brexit dispute.

Normally, a prime minister’s request to the Queen to prorogue is extremely straightforward.

In fact, the House of Commons Library says it has been a formality in the UK for more than a century.

But in the current climate,

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