Democracy in the UK is dead. After being elected by just 0.13 per cent of the population, last week Boris Johnson announced the suspension of parliament until October 14, giving MPs just two and a half weeks to stop a No Deal Brexit. On Saturday (August 31), thousands of protesters marched across the UK to show their anger at the prime minister’s decision.
Major demonstrations took place in Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, and more, with people bringing central London to a standstill as they chanted: “Boris Johnson, shame on you.”
The prime minister has been widely criticised for his decision to prorogue parliament – which came just one week after 100 MPs signed a letter urging Johnson to end summer recess early – which is now rightly being referred to as a coup d’etat. Named ‘Stop the Coup’, the weekend’s protests drew tens of thousands of people.
Journalist Ben Smoke, who attended the demonstration, told Dazed: “Boris Johnson trying to usurp parliament in order to placate the far-right first for a No Deal that will only exacerbate the horrors of a decade of Tory rule is such an unprecedented and dangerous move, and it felt important to be on the streets, fighting it.”
He continued: “People are, rightfully, angry and terrified, and you could feel it in the air on Saturday. I hope this energy and this anger continues, and that the sheer audacity of trying to bypass democratic structures in order to hammer home a self-serving No Deal Brexit by Johnson will ignite a movement against the Tories and see them finally out of power, so we can start to rebuild and repair some of the damage they’ve done.”
Photos from the march show huge crowds of people – young and old – brandishing EU flags, chanting “stop the coup”, and holding signs reading ‘Bring down Boris’, ‘Coup do you think you are?’, and ‘Defend democracy’.
Speaking in Glasgow, Jeremy Corbyn told the cheering crowd: “Demonstrations are taking place everywhere because people are angered and outraged about what is happening. Nobody voted to lose their rights or give up on their democracy.” The Labour leader also directly addressed Johnson, asserting: “No way do you take us out without a deal. We will stop you and give the people their right, and their say to determine their future.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell spoke in London, telling Johnson: “This is not about parliament versus the people, this is about you versus the people.” Protesters in the city also blocked traffic along Westminster Bridge, declaring: “If you shut down our parliament, we shut down your bridge.”
Although parliament has infrequently been prorogued in the past, political commentator Ash Sarkar wrote in an op-ed for Dazed that Johnson’s decision is “the most craven and cowardly attack on representative democracy” since 1629. Rarely commenting on political announcements, House of Commons speaker John Bercow described the suspension as a “constitutional outrage”, expanding in a statement: “However it is dressed up, 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.”
“People are, rightfully, angry and terrified, and you could feel it in the air on Saturday” – Ben Smoke
When confronted about the decision’s insult to democracy, Johnson rebutted, “that is completely untrue”, claiming parliament needs to focus on new legislative programmes, and that there will still be “ample time for MPs to debate the EU, Brexit, and all the other issues”.
Further evidence that Johnson is running his government like a dictatorship came this morning as the prime minister announced that any Tory MP who goes against him will have their whip withdrawn (meaning they will keep their parliamentary seat but will sit in the Commons as an independent MP), and will be barred from standing as Conservative candidates at the next general election. Undeterred, rebels told Sky News they will still support efforts to block No Deal.
MPs officially return to Westminster tomorrow (September 3), with rebel and opposition MPs predicted to request an emergency debate. According to the Guardian, in order for MPs to seize control of the parliamentary timetable for the week ahead, they will need to table a business motion. If approved by Bercow, MPs can then table a new short bill ordering Johnson to seek an extension to article 50 in an attempt to prevent No Deal.
Giving a speech outside parliament just moments ago, Johnson enforced his do-or-die attitude to Brexit, asserting the UK will leave on October 31. The prime minister made it clear he did not want a general election – though it’s been suggested there could be one on October 14 if rebel MPs defeat the government – and hopes MPs don’t vote tomorrow to rule out No Deal. With parliament potentially prorogued from Monday (September 9), this will be a historic week for UK politics.