Europe

What has British PM Boris Johnson done and how could it affect Brexit?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to sack Tory MPs who fail to support his government. Source: AAP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sparked anger by successfully seeking the suspension of parliament weeks before Britain's EU departure date.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend - or prorogue - parliament from mid-September until 14 October - just two weeks before Britain is set to leave the EU - has been called a "constitutional outrage" by critics.

But what is the legal standing of Mr Johnson's decision - and could it make a snap election more likely?

What has Mr Johnson done?

Mr Johnson said he will suspend parliament in mid-September, when MPs don't usually sit anyway due to the party conference season.

But they will also have an extra week off in October, giving anti-Brexit lawmakers limited time to legislate against Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October.

MPs were expected to vote against suspending parliament for conference season this year, but Mr Johnson used his executive powers to quash those attempts, leading House of Commons Speaker John Bercow to call it a "constitutional outrage".

Does the PM have the right to suspend parliament?

Mr Johnson argues he is merely following convention, in which the prime minister annually suspends parliament around this time, ahead of spelling out the government's program in the Queen's Speech.

Constitutional experts agreed that Mr Johnson, who only took over last month, was within his rights to make the move.

"This isn't unusual, this is what happens at the end of every parliamentary session... and you would expect a new government to do this," Maddy Thimont Jack, an analyst at the Institute For Government think-tank, said.

"There is, theoretically, absolutely nothing wrong with this," added Robert Craig, a constitutional expert at Durham University.

Boris Johnson at the G7 in France.
Boris Johnson at the G7 in France.
AAP

Why are some MPs angry?

Mr Johnson's opponents don't believe that he is merely setting out his domestic agenda, but is instead trying to limit the time in which parliament could potentially handle the complicated legislation needed to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

"It is 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," Mr Bercow said.

Can the courts stop it?

There is a legal case already running in Scotland, and another in the pipeline in England, arguing that suspending parliament to force through Brexit would be improper.

But proving that is Mr Johnson's motivation is very difficult, Mr Craig said.

"That case cannot work unless the prime minister says something stupid like 'I'm doing this to achieve Brexit'," he said.

"He hasn't said that, he's said 'I'm doing this to set forward bills and a program for my premiership'. That's clever."

The case is made more difficult by the fact that MPs will still have two weeks between conference season and the deadline to debate Brexit, he added.

Could the Queen have stepped in?

There were some calls for Queen Elizabeth to withhold her assent, but the monarch is bound by convention and approved the request.

"She must act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister; it's the oldest rule in the constitution," Mr Craig said.

Can MPs prevent no-deal?

MPs will still sit for a total of around four weeks before 31 October, meaning that stopping no-deal "is definitely still possible", according to Ms Thimont Jack.

Previous legislation forcing Mr Johnson's predecessor Theresa May to ask for a Brexit deadline extension took two days to pass, but the process could be much more difficult this time around, Mr Craig said.

MPs will need to find a way of taking control of the parliamentary timetable, and even if they succeed, Mr Johnson's "prerogative powers", which give the government control over treaties, present a "big problem", he said.

"If you pass an act that affects the prerogative, then you have to get Queen's consent, which requires a minister to approve it."

US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) pose as they arrive for a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz
US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) pose as they arrive for a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz.
AAP

Does it make an election more likely?

With the legislative route looking more arduous, MPs could decide that defeating Mr Johnson in a vote of no confidence and triggering a general election is the best path forward.

MPs would have 14 days in such a scenario to form an alternative government that could sign a Brexit extension.

But they have so far failed to unite around a lead candidate.

If Mr Johnson or an alternative figure cannot win a confidence vote within the 14 days, a general election would be triggered. But there is no guarantee that it could take place before 31 October.

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