Today, Boris Johnson asked the Queen to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for the best part of a month from the week beginning 9th September.

The Prime Minister claims it is simply a pause in Parliamentary business ahead of his Government announcing its legislative programme in a Queen’s Speech he has scheduled for 14th October. The reality is very different. Describing the move as a “constitutional outrage” Commons Speaker, John Bercow said today:

“However it is dressed up it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”

Speaker Bercow is right. Up and down the country, opinion is sharply divided over Brexit and, in particular over the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 31st October. Elected by the people, it is Parliament’s job to agree a way forward, deciding whether to approve, reject or change proposals that Prime Minister and his Government put to us. The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and, in turn we, as MPs in Parliament, are accountable for our decisions to the people who elected us.

By his actions today, Boris Johnson has turned that principle on its head. At the very time it is most important Parliament is in session to allow decisions to be made, he wants us shut down, allowing him to do what he wants without being answerable to anyone. He is behaving like a tin pot despot and, by invoking the convention by which the monarch goes along with advice from the Prime Minister, he has used the Queen to enable him to do so. Many would say he has abused that convention.

Little wonder then that Boris Johnson’s actions are already provoking fury well beyond Westminster. Within a few hours, over 550,000 people up and down the country had signed a petition against the suspension of Parliament. You can join them here.

As I write this, more signatures were coming in at the rate of about 1,000 per minute. Along with other MPs, in the coming days I will be looking at how, even at this late stage, we can intervene to protect our democracy from a Prime Minister so hell-bent on undermining it.

I have never made any secret of my position on Brexit. I voted Remain in 2016. Respecting the result of the Referendum I also voted the following year to trigger Article 50 to open negotiations on Britain’s departure from the EU. In doing so I also made clear that I would not vote for a deal that would profoundly damage jobs and opportunities here in Britain and that is why I opposed the kind of future relationship with the EU put forward by Theresa May when she was Prime Minister. Most urgently of all, however, I have believed throughout that it is my responsibly to oppose a No Deal Brexit – particularly because of the damage it is projected to cause to manufacturing and other key parts of our economy; because of the price rises and disruption it will cause to supplies of food, medicines and more, and because of the threat that it poses to the continuation of the Good Friday agreement that has brought peace to Northern Ireland. Back in 2016, nobody – not even Nigel Farage – was arguing that the UK should leave the EU without a deal. How times change….

The genuine judgements I have made on these issues have guided my actions over the past three years and I am accountable for them. I know from the letters and e-mails I receive that many of my constituents share my views and many others disagree with me. Nobody knows for sure whether or not the majority people in this country still take the same view that the expressed in 2016, now that so much more is known about what Brexit entails in practice. Personally, I would like to see another referendum to settle that matter.

Whatever different views we may have on leaving the EU with or without a deal, or even on another referendum, everyone knows that the issue of Brexit has to be resolved one way or another. However, I do not believe that it can be right for our country to undermine the foundations of our democracy in the way Boris Johnson is now doing.

In 2016 the Vote Leave campaign slogan “Take back control” resonated with many people, whichever way they went on to vote. There is indeed a lot more we must do reconnect the world of politics with the hopes and concerns that people up and down the country have for their own and their families’ futures. Today’s developments take our country and its democracy in the opposite direction. This is a power-grab by a Prime Minister who is only interested in control if he is the one doing the controlling. We have got to stop him.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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