Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament over Brexit sparks outrage

By Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 7:41 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019
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6:31 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

Why Ruth Davidson's resignation matters

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Davidson in 2016

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called time on an eventful political career which, some had suggested, could eventually have seen her rise to the very top of British politics.

It’s a surprising decision, which Davidson attributed mostly to personal factors – but the timing of her announcement has already raised eyebrows, given Davidson’s longstanding opposition to Boris Johnson’s pursuit of a no-deal Brexit.

And while Johnson may be quietly relieved in the short term to see a critic of his approach step down, Davidson’s decision could spell danger for their party’s prospects north of the border.

That’s because, for years, Davidson has been something of a rarity – a Conservative popular in Scotland.

For generations, the party has struggled to gain traction in the typically more left-leaning country – and its current leader Johnson is especially unpopular in the country, opinion polls have shown.

But Davidson's socially liberal ideology, her straight-talking manner and her ease in front of cameras made her a respected figure in Scotland, reviving the party's standing in the country.

That turnaround resulted in a staggering success at the ballot box in 2017, when -- bucking the national trend -- the Conservatives made impressive gains in Scotland. Under Davidson's stewardship, the party turned their single Scottish seat in Westminster into 13, taking the wind out of the sails of the rival Scottish National Party.

It also won Davidson the praise of party figures south of the border, many of whom saw her as the answer to winning over younger voters who had flocked towards Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

There's also the small matter of Brexit; while England voted comfortably in favor of leaving the European Union, Scotland voted by 62% to 38% to remain -- and as the national party moves towards backing a no-deal Brexit, it risks hemorrhaging support in the region without a popular leader.

So while Davidson has boosted the Conservative Party in Scotland, her resignation leaves it in a quandary -- and threatens to wreck its progress made in the country under her watch.

6:34 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

Theresa May is back!

Theresa May enjoys a spot of cricket the day after she left her post.
Theresa May enjoys a spot of cricket the day after she left her post. Stu Forster/Getty Images

On Twitter, that is.

The former prime minister has sent her first social media post since stepping down over a month ago, paying tribute to Ruth Davidson's time as Scottish Conservative leader and wishing her some "well-deserved family time" with her partner Jen Wilson and her new son Finn.

6:18 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

Ruth Davidson to Johnson: Get us a deal with the EU

Peter Summers/Getty Images
Peter Summers/Getty Images

Ruth Davidson has been holding a news conference after announcing she will step down as Scottish Conservatives leader.

"This has been a remarkable time in politics and I will always be thankful for the opportunity to have a front seat as Scottish political history was being made," she said.

Personal and professional: Davidson called her role in campaigning for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom in 2014 "the most important contribution of my working life."

She attributes the decision to step down to both "personal and professional" factors, noting the "conflict" she has felt over Brexit -- which she opposed, in line with most Scottish voters.

"The biggest change, however, has been starting a family," she says, adding that the prospect of spending hundreds of hours campaigning "now fills me with dread."

She confirms she will continue as a Member for the Scottish Parliament until her term ends in 2021, and will "continue to support the party and the Prime Minister."

What about Brexit? Davidson adds that both the Scottish and Brexit referendums have split opinion across the UK. "The vast majority of people who go into politics do so for the right reasons," she says. "Respect is what is missing from our debate," she goes on.

But asked what role Johnson's pursuit of a no-deal Brexit played in the decision, Davidson says "we had three golden opportunities to support a deal." She says anti-Brexit MPs "had a goal gaping" but "hit the bar" by not supporting Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Davidson again urges MPs across the aisle to vote for a deal at the fourth attempt, adding that Johnson is attempting to secure a deal. "Let the EU hear you say you will vote" for a deal, she tells MPs.

She says she spoke to Johnson last night, and her message to him is this: "Prime Minister, get us a deal with the European Union." To lawmakers, she again adds: "For God's sake, get behind it."

“I asked him outright, look, I need to know, are you actually trying to get a deal or not,” Davidson says, adding that Johnson “categorically assured me” that he was.

5:56 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

BREAKING: Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson resigns

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has resigned.

In her resignation letter, Davidson wrote: "While I have not hidden the conflict I have felt over Brexit, I have attempted to chart a course for our party which recognises and respects the referendum result, while seeking to maximise opportunities and mitigate risks for key Scottish businesses and sectors."

Davidson has been an outspoken critic of a no-deal Brexit. But in the rest of her letter, she makes clear that the main driver behind her decision is to spend more time with her family.

"I fear that having tried to be a good leader over the years, I have proved a poor daughter, sister, partner and friend." Davidson and her partner Jen Wilson welcomed their first child late last year.

7:51 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

What senior Conservatives said about suspending Parliament -- and what they're saying now

Amber Rudd, Johnson's Work and Pensions Secretary.
Amber Rudd, Johnson's Work and Pensions Secretary. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The issue of proroguing Parliament before the Brexit deadline was first raised during the Conservative leadership contest, when Dominic Raab -- now Foreign Secretary -- refused to rule out the idea.

It was roundly criticized as undemocratic by a number of his colleagues, many of whom have not been so vocal since Johnson announced he would suspend Parliament on Wednesday.

A reminder -- Johnson is not suspending Parliament during the Brexit period, as many Remainers claimed during the contest that he would do, and his plans to close the chamber before a Queen's Speech are not unusual.

But there is also little doubt that the timing of the move is intended, in large part, to limit the amount of time lawmakers have to legislate against a no-deal Brexit -- so it's worth a refresher on what some of Johnson's ministers said on the issue of suspending Parliament, as the clock ticks down to Brexit.

Amber Rudd: The former home secretary, and current Work and Pensions Secretary, was once an outspoken opponent of a no-deal Brexit, but she seems to have eased that stance more recently.

Then: In June, Rudd called the suggestion of proroguing Parliament "absolutely outrageous," "extraordinary" and "ridiculous."

Now: Rudd ducked questions about Johnson's decision on Thursday, telling the Press Association: "I'm going to continue to do my job as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions."

Matt Hancock: A rival of Johnson's in the Conservative leadership election, Hancock was kept in his role as Health Secretary by Johnson.

Then: Hancock said proroguing Parliament "undermines parliamentary democracy." He added that doing so in order to explicitly pursue a no-deal Brexit "is not a serious policy," and asked "what kind of message would this send around the world about our values?"

Now: Hancock has been quiet on Twitter and hasn't made any public statements.

Sajid Javid: Another contender in the Tory leadership race, Javid is now Johnson's Chancellor.

Then: "You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy -- you can't just shut down Parliament," Javid said during the leadership contest. "We are not selecting a dictator of our country, we are selecting a prime minister of our country."

Now: Javid hasn't spoken to the media since Johnson suspended Parliament.

5:14 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

Rees-Mogg tells Johnson's critics: Change the law or change the government

Peter Summers/Getty Images
Peter Summers/Getty Images

Critics of Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for a Queen's Speech should either change the law or change the government, House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday.

The ardent Brexiteer met with Queen Elizabeth II at her Scottish residence in Balmoral on Wednesday, as one of the three Conservative members of the Queen’s Privy Council, to request the suspension of Parliament on behalf of the Prime Minister, which the Queen approved.

Speaking to the BBC Thursday, he called outrage against Johnson’s move “phony.” 

“All these people who are wailing and gnashing their teeth know that there are two ways of doing what they want to do. One, is to change the government and the other is to change the law," he dared lawmakers.

“If they don’t have the courage or the gumption to do either of those then we will leave on the 31st of October in accordance with the referendum result," he added.

Responding to criticism that the move by the Prime Minister is designed to prevent Parliament from debating Brexit, he said some were “crying constitutional wolf” and that if there is an agreement with the EU, Parliament will have 13 days to implement it into UK law. 

Rees-Mogg also criticized Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, after he said Wednesday that the move by the Government was a “constitutional outrage.”

The lawmaker said it wasn’t constitutional for the Speaker to express his opinion without direction of the House and that his comments were in a private capacity. Citing the words of Speaker William Lenthall, an English politician from the 17th century Civil War period, he said: “Mister Speaker has no eyes to see nor tongue to speak unless directed by the House.���

4:57 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

Labour calls for emergency debate on Brexit next week

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Arnaud Siad in London

The opposition Labour Party will seek an emergency parliamentary debate on Brexit next week, its Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said on Thursday.

Speaking to the BBC, Gardiner said Labour will seek measures on Monday under Standing Order No. 24, which allows for “an emergency debate to be called at short notice in the House of Commons on a matter that should have urgent consideration.”

It's a predictable move from the party, as it scrambles to react to Johnson's move limiting parliamentary time before Brexit.

Gardiner said the government was “disingenuous” and “lying” about its justifications for suspending Parliament, adding the move was designed to “take the UK out of the EU without a deal” and timed to make it difficult for MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit.

4:33 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

So what *exactly* is going on with Parliament?

Protesters outside Downing Street on Wednesday.
Protesters outside Downing Street on Wednesday.  Peter Summers/Getty Images

The prospect of Johnson proroguing, or suspending, Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit has struck fear into the heart of Remainers since he was contesting the Conservative leadership election at the beginning of the summer. But this isn't quite the nightmare scenario they envisaged.

Johnson is not proposing to shut down Parliament immediately before and during the October 31 Brexit deadline, which would essentially have locked them out of the process altogether.

And his move isn't unusual in itself -- Parliament is always suspended before a Queen's Speech, which marks the start of a new session.

The timetable Johnson has asked for, however, is what's troubling anti-Brexit MPs. In 2016, Parliament was suspended for just four working days before the Queen's speech, and in 2014 it was closed for 13 days. This closure will see lawmakers go more than 20 days without debating.

BUT: A recess was already due for party conference season, from which MPs were likely to return in the second week of October. Now, they'll return in the third week instead. So Johnson's plan isn't causing that 20-plus day absence in its entirety -- it's extending a recess by about a week, as the clock ticks down to Brexit.

4:17 a.m. ET, August 29, 2019

What Thursday's papers are saying


Johnson's power move predictably dominates front pages on Thursday -- and, depending on which you read, it's either an unconstitutional outrage or a bold step to uphold the will of the people.

The Brexit-backing Daily Express says "The Die is Cast." The Daily Telegraph, for which Johnson used to write, takes a similar stance -- saying the PM must "give effect to the will of the nation."

But the left-leaning Daily Mirror says Johnson has been branded a "tinpot dictator" and warns of the effect of a no-deal Brexit on the NHS. The Guardian leads on the "outrage" that met the decision, while The Independent labels the move "The Johnson coup."

The Times says Johnson "goes for broke" with the move, while the Daily Mail says he's taken his "gloves off."

There's also a decent array of punnery on the tabloids -- the Mirror, Metro and City AM all went with the obvious choice ("Prorogue," "Prorogue state" and "Going Prorogue," respectively) but The Sun pushed the boat out with "Hey Big Suspender."