Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament shows Downing Street wants a Brexit deal

Boris Johnson

Terrified MPs – convinced that Boris Johnson will go for no deal – will vote for a deal with a gun to their head.

The British constitution is fraying by the day.

Prorogation is usually completely uncontroversial.

It takes place at the end of one parliamentary session (usually a year long) and a few days before a new session, which is opened by the Queen (in a Queen’s Speech).

This is not that. People are dressing it up as something routine. It is not. For a few reasons.

It is true to say that parliament was due to be in recess for the conference season in late September and early October.

It is true that, technically, only a week of parliamentary time will be lost, with parliament returning on 14 October not 7 October.

The government says the current parliamentary session is already the longest in history and so it is normal to bring to an end.

While technically correct, it is… a generous interpretation.

For a start, it is odd to lose so much time between prorogation and Queen’s Speech, especially in such a controversial period.

Moreover, parliament would probably have voted to sit during the conference season.

That will now no longer be possible as the House of Commons can vote on its recess dates but not prorogation dates, as it is technically a power of the Crown.

Likewise, the parliamentary furniture of the Queen’s Speech will consume much of the debating time in late October, which would have been available to discuss and frustrate a no-deal Brexit.

There will be five days of debate before a Queen’s Speech is voted upon.

Make no mistake, this isn’t about routine parliamentary procedure, nor introducing a new government’s programme for office – it is about limiting parliament’s ability to interfere with the government’s Brexit plans.

To say anything else is deeply disingenuous.

But this doesn’t mean we are destined for a no-deal Brexit. Indeed, I think it rather confirms that Downing Street is committed to an agreement.

The contour of their plan now seems obvious to me: survive the first few weeks of September, scramble their opponents and prevent them from limiting their room for manoeuvre, ride out the conference recess and get to the European Council summit on 17 October.

There they hope to secure a cosmetically-modified withdrawal agreement. They will survive a vote on the Queen’s Speech because, they will say, if they are voted down there will be no government in place to prevent a no-deal.

They will then put the deal to parliament in the days before 31 October.

Every other option, save for a deal, will have been exhausted and terrified Remainer MPs – convinced that Boris Johnson will go for no-deal in a way Theresa May would not – will vote for it, with a gun to their head.

Well that’s the theory, anyway.

It could go wrong at any point, with chances for a general election along the way very high.

Stepping back a little though, what today demonstrates is the power of the British executive.

It is a rude reminder to Remainers, so content with their comfort blanket of “legislative solutions”, that they’re probably illusory.

Under our constitution, he who controls Downing Street is basically king.

Even an administration as theoretically enfeebled as this one, with barely any parliamentary majority, pull all the levers, sets the agenda.

Remainers think the much fabled “Cooper-Letwin” bill, which legally compelled Mrs May to seek an extension to Article 50, avoided a no-deal in the spring.

It did not. Or rather, it would have done, had Mrs May not sought an extension already by the time it passed.

There is a world of difference from trying to force a prime minister who basically doesn’t want no-deal to avoid one, than it is trying to force one who does.

He can use all the political means at his disposal to frustrate it.

If you really want to stop a no-deal Brexit you have to replace the prime minister who wants one with one who doesn’t, which is probably why the chances of a no-confidence vote receding only yesterday are rising once more.