Strikes, petitions and protests: Pro-Remain MPs scramble to respond to prorogued Parliament

Written by John Johnston on 28 August 2019 in Diary

After months of bungled plans there is little surprise that pro-Remain MPs failed to come up with a coherent response to Boris Johnson's Brexit ambush.

After three years of stunts, disagreements and talks, it seemed as if opposition MPs had finally coaleseced around a meaningful plan to block a no-deal Brexit when they agreed earlier this week to pursue a fresh legislative approach in the Commons.

But Boris Johnson's announcement today that parliament will be suspended from mid-September has blown their plot out the water and left pro-Remain MPs scrabbling for a new option to stop the PM's plans.

With indecision and a lack of clear leadership hampering the anti-Brexit bloc, here are just a few proposals MPs have come up with to try and hinder the Prime Minister from pushing through a no-deal.


More than 400,000 have already signed a petition urging Boris Johnson not to suspend Parliament until "the Article 50 period has been sufficiently extended or the UK's intention to withdraw from the EU has been cancelled."

Senior MPs from across the Commons have led the charge on pushing the petition out to across Twitter saying the text could help "stop the coup" in Westminster.

Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake, tweeted: "Johnson's plan to suspend Parliament is unprecendented, undemocratic and unacceptable.

"We must not let him shut down debate and stifle the voice of the people."

He added: "The mother of all Parliaments will not allow him to shut the #PeoplesParliament out of the biggest decision facing our country.

"His declaration of war will be met with an iron fist."

Posted on parliament's official petitions website, the level of support means the government will have to issue some kind of response, while Parliament must "consider" hosting a debate on the subject.

It is pretty unlikely that Boris Johnson is going to take any heed of any petition, no matter its size, but the numbers will help pro-Remainers shore up their argument.


Occupy Parliament

Labour MP Clive Lewis has taken things a step further by vowing to occupy Parliament if Boris Johnson pushes ahead prorogation.

"If Boris shuts down parliament to carry out his No-Deal Brexit, I and other MPs will defend democracy," the Norwich South MP said.

"The police will have to remove us from the chamber. We will call on the people to take to the streets. We will call an extraordianary session of parliament."

And his plans have already gathered support from Labour's Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Dawn Butler who tweeted: "No matter how you voted. Boris can not be allowed to close parliament.

"I along with my colleagues will occupy parliament. Boris only cares about Boris.

She added: "Labour care about the country and our democracy. Why is he scared of Parliament, General Election and People's Vote?"

While the spectacle of MPs occupying the Commons would be extraordinary, it would do little to alter the change the fact that a no-deal Brexit is the legal default on Hallowe'en. 

But Mr Lewis said the "symbolic" protest could help force the government into a u-turn.

"There are a number of ways to contest this, some legal and some physical. A physical protest, by which I mean staying in Parliament, would be symbolic. And I'm sure I, and many others, would do this."


General Strike

Outspoken Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has called for a general strike to grind the country to a halt and force "tinpot dictator" Boris Johnson from office.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, he urged Parliament and the public "to resist this deeply anti-democratic move, using any peaceful means availably to them".

"If the Government tries to drive No Deal through by stopping Parliament from sitting, we cannot just rely on the courts and parliamentary process. We need a mass movement of resistance, with marches, civil disobedience and protests in every village, town and city of this country," he added.

"If the Government plans to ignore the will of Parliament and the people, then that is a coup. The resistance starts now."

But while several dozen Labour supporters managed to get the term "general strike" trending on Twitter, it seems unlikely the barricades will be going up anytime soon.

Court Case

A cross-party group of MPs have filed an emergency motion in the Scottish courts in a bid to speed up legal action aimed at stopping the Prime Minister from suspending Parliament.

The case, currently due to be heard on September 6, is backed by 70 MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party.

Labour's Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray said he hoped the action would block a no-deal from being passed through parliament without a vote.

"Legal action to prevent the Prime Minister suspending Parliament has already been fast-tracked through the courts and the legal team will now consider the appropriate next steps, including seeking interim orders," he said.

"A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Scotland and the UK, and we will do everything we can to stop Boris Johnson inflicting such hardship on the people. The final say on Brexit should be handed back to the people."

The government's Brexit approach has already been altered by legal pressure from pro-Remain campaigner Gina Miller, but MPs will have to hope they can get their case heard before parliament is suspended in mid-September.


Lobby the Queen

The last ditch attempt to halt Mr Johnson's plan came later in the day with both Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson asking the Queen to meet with them to discuss concerns about the plan.

"There is a danger that the royal prerogative is being set directly against the wishes of a majority of the House of Commons," Mr Corbyn wrote.

"In the circumstances, as the leaders of the official opposition, on behalf of all my party members and many other members of Parliament, I requesting you to grant me a meeting along with the Privy Councillors, as a matter of urgency and before any final decision is taken."

Meanwhile, Ms Swinson wrote: "This is a crucial time in our country's history, and yet our Prime Minister is arrogantly attempting to force through a No Deal Brexit against the democrati will. He is outrageously stifling the voices of both the people and their representatives.

"It is appalling that the Prime Minister has forced opposition leaders into taking this action. However, we must take all measures necessary to avoid a disastrous No Deal Brexit, for which there is no mandate."

Unfortunately for the pair, even appealing to the palace could not help them slow down Mr Johnson with their last minute letters only reaching her after she had signed off on the plan.


What next?

While the opposition flounders, Boris Johnson could still find himself losing sleep after the plot triggered a significant backlash from his own MPs.

With a razor thin majority, upsetting just a few of the more moderate Tory rebels could spell disaster for Mr Johnson in the event he faces a vote of no confidence ahead of October 31.

"Shocked by the reckless move to suspend parliament to deliver an extreme Brexit for which there is no mandate," Tory MP Sam Gyiman said.

"Taking a wrecking ball to the constitution by suspending parliament to avoid scrutiny, is no way to uphold democracy. I will work on a cross party basis to stop no deal."

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

Meanwhile, former cabinet minister David Guake, said: "Put to one side your views of a no deal Brexit. 

"Imagine that Jeremy Corbyn is PM, pursuing a policy that is unpopular in Parliament & in the country. At a crucial moment he finds a way to evade Parliamentary scrutiny for several weeks.

"This is a dangerous precedent."

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