Constitutional academics declare Boris Johnson's prorogation an 'abuse of executive power'

PUBLISHED: 12:00 29 August 2019

Boris Johnson. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

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Constitutional experts have said that Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue parliament at this time breaks with the core principles of our constitution, calling it "frankly extraordinary".

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Jacob Rees-Mogg has echoed government claims that the announced suspension of parliament between September 9 and October 14 is "a completely proper constitutional procedure".

WATCH; PM: It's 'completely untrue' I'm suspending parliament because of Brexit

But academics from University College London's Constitution Unit have said that although he is not breaking the law, Johnson is "arguably acting unconstitutionally".

Professor Meg Russell, director of the unit, outlined three aspects of the decision that are "unprecedented".

Firstly, the five-week length of the prorogation outstrips the longest suspension of parliament in the past 40 years, which was previously three weeks. The great majority of prorogations of this kind have never lasted longer than a few days.

The ticking Brexit clock is also a factor, obstructing more than four out of seven available weeks of parliamentary scrutiny before October 31.

Finally, says Prof Russell, Johnson has so far avoided all but one day of parliamentary scrutiny since he was made leader of the Conservatives and inherited the position of prime minister.

"His avoidance of further scrutiny, when parliament is at the heart of the British constitution, is extraordinary," said a statement from the constitutional scholars.

Professor Russell said: "We are in the midst of the biggest political crisis of our post-war history, which is rapidly becoming a constitutional crisis.

"It is frankly extraordinary that the prime minister, in these circumstances, has faced only one day of parliamentary scrutiny, and is now seeking to shut parliament down.

"At the core of the British constitution is the principle that the government is accountable to parliament, and enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons.

"The central problem with this proposal is it appears the prime minister is deliberately dodging scrutiny, and denying MPs a voice. It is even questionable whether he currently enjoys parliamentary confidence, and yet his right to advise the Queen rests on that assumption.

"To ask her to prorogue in these circumstances is, in effect, an abuse of executive power.

"The United Kingdom has always had a political, not a legal, constitution. But that political constitution relies on key players respecting precedents and traditions. By ignoring precedent on this matter, particularly at a time of crisis, the prime minister is arguably acting unconstitutionally."

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