Queen’s Speech: ‘Fixed-term Parliaments Act will be repealed’
Last September Boris Johnson announced he was dissolving Parliament for five weeks in the build-up to the then-Brexit deadline of October 31. Prominent Remainers including campaigner Gina Miller challenged the decision in the Supreme Court.
In what was described by Jacob Rees-Mogg as a “constitutional coup”, the court ruled in favour of the Remainers’ appeal and said it was unlawful to stop MPs carrying out their duties in the House of Commons.
At the time a No10 source accused the Supreme Court of “extending its reach to political matters” and of making a “serious mistake”.
Now, the Prime Minister is set to get his revenge by passing legislation to curtail the court’s role in ruling on his power to dissolve Parliament.
The Government has today published its draft Bill to abolish the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which states that a general election must be held at five-year intervals.
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Under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act the support of at least two-thirds of MPs would be needed to trigger an early election.
The law – introduced by David Cameron and the coalition Government – caused havoc last year when the Commons was in a state of paralysis just two years into its five-year term.
Despite the stalemate in Parliamentary business, votes on calling an early general election failed twice to gain enough support to trigger a vote at the ballot box. It was only on the third time of asking that MPs supported going to the polls.
The new Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill seeks to once again return the power to dissolve Parliament for an election to the Prime Minister and not require MPs’ consent.
The new legislation would mean Mr Johnson could call an election at any point over the maximum five-year parliamentary term, at a time when he believes he is most likely to win.
However, one of the clauses of the Bill also seeks to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the legality of any such dissolution.
The Bill would make ruling on the Prime Minister’s decision to dissolve Parliament “not justiciable”.
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The power to open, dissolve and prorogue Parliament officially lies with the Queen but is transferred to the Prime Minister through royal prerogative.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that while the Queen’s prorogation of Parliament itself was not illegal, Mr Johnson’s advice to the monarch broke the law.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling: “The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
Referencing Ms Miller’s court appeal last year directly, the Government says it is hoping the Bill will “clarify” that Supreme Court can have no role in determining the “limits or extent” of the Prime Minister’s ability to dissolve Parliament, including on the advice given to the monarch.
The proposed law change has sparked anger among critics of the Government.
Gina Miller described the proposed Bill as a “power grab”.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Chris Bryant said: “Why this Prime Minister who was found to have prorogued Parliament unlawfully, should expect the nation to invest him with the power to adjourn, prorogue and dissolve Parliament at will without even a Commons vote, beggars belief.”
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