Disclaimer: Note that this piece was written approximately a week before publishing, and therefore does not account for the most recent developments.
It has been a hot summer in the UK, not only because it was the warmest recorded summer in history, but also because it was filled with heated debates over Brexit. With the help of the below timeline this article looks back on some of the most important Brexit moments in the UK over the past months. From May’s resignation to the prorogation, and from the Benn Bill to the rumour mill. Finally, we will also briefly look forward to some important dates that are coming up before the Brexit deadline on the 31st of October.
On the 7th of June Theresa May resigned as leader of the Conservative party, she announced her departure in a tearful speech in front of 10th Downing Street. May’s resignation did not come a as much of a surprise to anyone, there had already been a vote of no confidence against her back in December, and after she failed to get her Brexit deal through Parliament three times the calls for her resignation grew even louder. The week after May’s resignation a leadership contest within the Conservative Party began, which was won by Boris Johnson.
Chatham House London Conference, 23-24 October 2017, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London / Flickr
On the 24th of July Johnson officially became the new prime minister, after he had comfortably won his party’s leadership race with 66% of the votes in the final round. During his acceptance speech Johnson said that he would “get Brexit done by 31 October”. This promise, and his reputation as a hard-line Brexiteer, is undoubtedly what won him his position. Johnson has repeated that the UK will leave the EU on the 31st of October, with or without a deal, ever since.
Only a week after taking office, while Parliament was off for the summer recess, Johnson announced that he would make an extra £2.1 billion available for ‘no-deal preparations’. Over the summer the government also compiled the now infamous ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ documents – Yellowhammer is the codename for the government’s assessment of the impacts of a no-deal Brexit.
The documents, which were released to Parliament in September, show that higher food prices, reduced medical supplies and chaos at border checkpoints are real risks of a no-deal. These documents demonstrate how serious the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal might be for the UK. However the continuing preparations indicate that Johnson and his allies in the Conservative Party are ready to accept these consequences in order to implement Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Towards the end of Parliament’s recess, on the 28th of August, Johnson announced that Parliament would be prorogued – suspended – prior to a Queen’s Speech on the 14th of October. It is normal for a new government to prorogue Parliament briefly before a Queen’s Speech, in which the government’s plans are set out. However, it is not normal for a prorogation to last for 5 weeks, as Johnson planned.
The timing of this suspension was also significant, as it would start almost immediately after Parliament returned from recess and it would end only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline. As the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, put it; “it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit”. If the UK cannot agree on a deal with the EU, and they do not ask for an extension, they will automatically leave the EU on the 31st of October, which is why it is so important that Parliament has enough time to debate this issue. Just hours after announcing the prorogation protesters gathered at Westminster and chanted “stop the coup”.
The week after prorogation was announced members of Parliament returned to Westminster, many were outraged over the prorogation and prepared to fight, what they saw as, Johnson’s attempt to force through a no-deal Brexit. Labour MP Hilary Benn tabled a bill that would “ensure that the UK does not leave the EU on October 31 without an agreement” and that would force the prime minister to ask for an extension if he could not reach a deal. This bill, now commonly known as the Benn Bill, got great support from members of different parties and it passed through the House of Commons on the 4th of September. The Benn Bill was also supported by 21 Conservative members of Parliament, who thus defied their party, all of them were kicked out of the party that same day. Amongst these 21 members are prominent conservatives such as the grandson of Winston Churchill.
Only a few days after this bill was passed Parliament was suspended, on the 9th of September, the prorogation began. However, it did not last for the full 5 weeks, because on the 24th of September the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to end the prorogation, after a Scottish court had already ruled that the suspension was illegal. Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court wrote in the Court’s judgement that this prorogation prevented “the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account” and that it was therefore unlawful.
The day after the Supreme Court’s decision members of Parliament returned to work, and although the summer days are over and temperatures outside are cooling down, the anger inside the House of Commons boiled over. In the days that followed, debates remained fierce and the rumour mill also started heating up. The prime minister is for example rising speculation that he plans to ignore the Benn Bill and still wants to leave on the 31st even without a deal. Other, and more extreme, rumours claim that the Queen might be able to fire Johnson if he does that.
Finally, some important dates to look forward to are the 14th and the 17th of October. On the 14th Queen Elizabeth will hold her Queens Speech, although it is unlikely that she will say much about Brexit. On the 17th the European Council will come together to discuss Brexit and possibly accepts or rejects Johnson’s proposed deal. And of course, the 31st of October remains the most important date in the near future as this is still likely to be the day that the UK leaves the EU, or could there be another extension?
If you want to know more about Brexit you can listen to this podcast from UPF Radio, or read this interesting article about the situation at the Irish border. And keep a look out for the next article in this Brexit Breakdown series in which the position of the EU will be discussed!
Kerime van Opijnen