Boris Johnson has asked the Queen to suspend parliament from the middle of next month, which will restrict MPs’ ability to block a no-deal Brexit.
Under the government’s plan, which has prompted a furious political row, parliament will be prorogued from the week beginning 9 September until 14 October.
This is the date on which a new Queen’s Speech – detailing the legislative agenda of Mr Johnson’s administration – will be held.
The move will see parliament lose a number of sitting days prior to the UK’s scheduled depature from the EU on 31 October.
Asked if he was denying opposition MPs the time to stop a no-deal Brexit, the prime minister said: “No, that is completely untrue.
“We are bringing forward a new legislative programme on crime, hospitals, making sure we have the education funding we need.”
He added there would be “ample time” for MPs to debate Brexit both before and after a “crucial” Brussels summit of EU leaders on 17 October.
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly also downplayed the significance of the action, claiming the government was planning a Queen’s Speech “just as all new governments do”.
Downing Street pointed to the fact the current session of parliament, which began in June 2017, is the longest since the Civil War.
However, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow claimed it was “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”.
He called it a “constitutional outrage”.
KEY DATES: WHAT’S HAPPENING OVER THE NEXT 64 DAYS?
3 September – MPs return from summer recess
4 September – Parliament sits
5 September – Parliament sits
Week beginning 9 September – Parliament suspended
14-17 September – Liberal Democrat conference
21-25 September – Labour Party conference
29 September to 2 October – Conservative Party conference
14 October – Queen’s Speech opens new session of parliament
17/18 October – European Council summit
31 October – UK leaves the EU
The prime minister has promised to take the UK out of the EU on Halloween “do or die”, despite a majority of the House of Commons being opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
He has regularly repeated his commitment to securing a new Brexit deal with Brussels.
But Mr Johnson has insisted to EU leaders the controversial Irish border backstop must be ditched from the existing withdrawal agreement, agreed between the bloc and ex-prime minister Theresa May.
In a letter sent to all MPs, the prime minister said legislation to ratify a new Brexit deal will be the “central feature” of the Queen’s Speech, if an agreement is reached.
“These weeks leading up to the European Council on 17/18 October are vitally important for the sake of my negotiations with the EU,” he added.
“Member states are watching what parliament does with great interest and it is only by showing unity and resolve that we stand a chance of securing a new deal that can be passed by parliament.”
The suspension of parliament from the middle of next month will see MPs lose a number of days at Westminster, during which they could have attempted to legislate against a no-deal Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday met with a coalition of party leaders and senior MPs opposed to no deal.
The group agreed they should focus on trying to pass legislation forcing the prime minister to seek a further extension to the Article 50 negotiating Brexit – thereby delaying the UK’s exit beyond 31 October – in order to avoid no deal.
Mr Corbyn had originally planned to table a no-confidence motion in Mr Johnson’s government soon after MPs return to Westminster from their summer break next week.
He had appeared to shelve this plan following Tuesday’s meeting, but could now return to the effort to oust Mr Johnson from 10 Downing Street.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage predicted such a scenario, posting on Twitter: “The government’s announcement today makes a confidence motion now certain, a general election more likely and is seen as a positive move by Brexiteers.”
Former chancellor Philip Hammond was also among those to claim it would be a “constitutional outrage” if parliament were “prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis”.
“Profoundly undemocratic,” he added in a tweet.
Liberal Democrat MP Chuka Umunna, a leading Remainer, accused Mr Johnson of “behaving like a tin-pot dictator” by proroguing parliament.
His party leader, Jo Swinson, said: “Shutting down Parliament would be an act of cowardice from Boris Johnson.
“He knows the people would not choose a no deal and that elected representatives wouldn’t allow it. He is trying to stifle their voices.”
Former Labour foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum, claimed the prime minister is “trashing the constitution”.
“This is a government with no majority of its own in parliament,” she said.
“While parliament is not even sitting, he is disgracefully dragging the Queen into the heart of the most difficult and dangerous exploitation of the usual powers of government.”
It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic.
— Philip Hammond (@PhilipHammondUK) August 28, 2019
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed Mr Johnson was “acting like a dictator”.
Sky News’ political correspondent Lewis Goodall said: “Remainers in parliament have now got a decision to make; they’ve got to put up or shut up.
“The government has put it in their court and they have to decide – and the next two weeks are really crucial – can they get their act together and find a way of perfecting some sort of legislative way of preventing a no-deal Brexit?”