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Member Of Parliament Reacts To Boris Johnson's Request To Suspend Parliament


Time is ticking on the long, slow story of Brexit, but it just got a whole lot faster and a whole lot more complicated. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked the queen for permission to suspend Parliament, and the queen has agreed. This, of course, comes just weeks before Britain is set to leave the European Union. That deadline is at the end of October. So what happens now? Joining us is Ben Bradshaw. He's a member of Parliament with the opposition Labour Party.

BEN BRADSHAW: Good morning, Rachel - pleasure.

MARTIN: What are the implications of the prime minister's decision to suspend Parliament?

BRADSHAW: Extremely serious - I mean, this basically amounts to a coup by our executive, a prime minister who hasn't been elected, who has no mandate, either from Parliament or from the people, to close down our parliamentary democracy in order to execute a crash-out no-deal Brexit at the end of October with all of the economic and social implications that that brings with it. But I am absolutely confident that when parliamentarians return to the House of Commons next week, we will find a way of preventing this. And a lot of work and discussions are going on right now as to how we achieve that.

MARTIN: Boris Johnson maintains that this is pro forma, that he's the new leader of the party. He's the new prime minister and is therefore granted a kind of time out to reset. Is that not true?

BRADSHAW: No, never, certainly, for this long. I mean, he's proposing to close Parliament down for five weeks - that's unprecedented - and has no mandate for what he is seeking to do. So as I say, I'm confident that there's a big majority in the House of Commons against no deal. There are a growing number of Conservative MPs, members of Mr. Johnson's own party, who have made absolutely clear they will do what it takes to stop him crashing Great Britain out of the European Union without a deal. And we will find a way to do that.

MARTIN: So to be clear, you believe that this suspension is a way to stifle debate to prevent the opposition party from blocking a no-deal Brexit.

BRADSHAW: Oh, absolutely. It's a blatant attempt to try to prevent Parliament from scrutinizing and challenging the government, asking questions and approving the government's policy. Governments in this country don't just make policy without the consent of Parliament. That is a coup in any normal sense of the word.

MARTIN: Although...

BRADSHAW: And there's also a question about the legality of this.

MARTIN: I want to ask you, though, there are supporters of Boris Johnson who are saying it is you, the Labour Party, who are acting in an anti-democratic fashion because the voters of the United Kingdom went to the polls and they voted in favor of Brexit, which is what Boris Johnson is trying to do.

BRADSHAW: There was a very narrow vote in favor of Brexit more than three years ago, but the Brexit that was sold to the public in that referendum was not a Brexit without a deal. And no one, including Mr. Johnson himself, suggested that we might be leaving the European Union in a chaotic, no-deal way with all of the implications for our economy, for the peace of Northern Ireland, for the future of the United Kingdom. Nobody has voted for that, and Mr. Johnson certainly doesn't have a mandate for that. What the parliamentarians in this country are trying to do is to make sure that the voice of the people is heard, the overwhelming majority of whom, according to all of the recent polls, oppose a no-deal Brexit.

MARTIN: Ben Bradshaw, a member of Parliament with the opposition Labour Party, reacting to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament ahead of the date of Brexit.

Thank you so much for your time this morning.

BRADSHAW: Pleasure, Rachel; thank you.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from London where he is monitoring all of this, as he always does on Brexit, and joins us now for context.

So, Frank, can you just start by putting this into perspective for Americans? I mean, what's the equivalent scenario?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Sure. I think the equivalent - and I want to caveat this by saying they are - as Ben was explaining, these are different systems. Of course, in the parliamentary system, the prime minister has almost complete control of the legislative agenda. Imagine in America that there was a huge issue that would change the course of the country and the president was going to shutdown Congress and just - even though Congress was against doing it the way he wanted to do it - allowing the time to run out so that this would happen. And it would have an impact for decades. So that's actually not an exaggeration. I mean, that's what it would be like in the states, so you can see why somebody like Ben Bradshaw is responding the way he is.

MARTIN: So what does happen? I mean, what are the tools that Parliament has to pull here?

LANGFITT: Well, I think there are a couple things. First of all, they're going to come back on Tuesday, and that's going to be a time of intense focus. One thing they can try to do is move legislation to postpone until after the 31 of October, the Brexit deadline date. But they have to seize control of what's called the Order Paper, the agenda. They will get help on that, I'm sure, with House Speaker John Bercow, who's very upset by this and has a lot of influence, of course, in the House of Commons. The other is to launch a no-confidence vote against Boris Johnson himself. He's only been in office since July. It'd be extraordinary to call a no-confidence vote this early, but this is where we are in the Brexit process. It's very high stakes. People are very angry. And they say this is beyond Brexit. It has a lot to do with democracy.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.