Boris Johnson accused of avoiding MPs’ scrutiny over Parliament suspension

Boris Johnson 3

Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to avoid scrutiny from MPs, after his decision to prorogue Parliament from next Tuesday.

The prime minister has ordered the short suspension so he can outline his agenda for a new parliamentary session with a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

It means Prime Minister’s Questions will not take place next Wednesday.

Labour said the suspension should have been delayed so the PM can “account for himself”.

But Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Johnson had spent 494 minutes being quizzed by MPs in the 10 working days in Parliament since he entered Downing Street.

It comes after Mr Johnson missed this week’s PMQs session due to his Conservative conference speech, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acting as stand-in.

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said it meant the prime minister had taken part in the weekly Commons clash only once, out of a possible four since taking office.

“He is like Macavity the mystery cat; he is called the hidden paw […] although maybe, in the prime minister’s case, it is the not so hidden paws,” she told MPs.

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Meanwhile, the chairwoman of a committee of senior MPs has said Mr Johnson’s offer to appear before them on 24 October is “simply not good enough”.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Wollaston said she had asked the prime minister to appear before the Liaison Committee, made up of select committee chairs, before Parliament is suspended next week.

His original scheduled appearance on 11 September was cancelled after Parliament was suspended in the early hours of the day before.

But the Supreme Court ruled that prorogation – which would have lasted five weeks – unlawful, meaning the session did not technically end at all.

The power to suspend Parliament in this way lies with the Queen, who conventionally acts on the advice of the prime minister.

‘Too late’

The judges criticised the length and timing of the earlier suspension, with Supreme Court president Lady Hale saying the PM’s decision to go for a five-week suspension “had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions”.

The latest suspension proposed by the government is likely to prove much less controversial, with only two sitting days being missed before the next session begins.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, ex-Conservative MP Ms Wollaston said his proposed new date for the appearance would be “too late” for the MPs to scrutinise his new plans for replacing the Irish backstop plan in the Brexit deal before “key decisions” are taken.

The UK government hopes to begin a period of intense negotiations on the plan, with the aim of reaching a final agreement at an EU summit on 17 October.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Johnson’s appearances in the Commons to deliver statements meant his scrutiny from MPs “has been running at an equivalent rate of 49 minutes a day”.

“He is speaking at an incredibly dutiful and proper rate,” he added.

“Instead of doing a brief Prime Minister’s Question Time, he has done 494 minutes. I do not think that anyone can complain about that.”