Why Is Parliament Shutting Down Again So Soon After MPs Returned?


Believe it or not, parliament is shutting up shop again today – barely a week after MPs returned from the party conference recess.

It’s all to do with the King’s Speech on November 7, when King Charles will set out what the government plans to do in the final parliamentary session before the next general election.

Before that can happen, parliament must “prorogue” – or close down – for several days in preparation.

Here, HuffPost UK walks you through this archaic process which is nevertheless an integral part of the country’s political procedur.

What is the prorogation of parliament?

Prorogation is the means by which a parliamentary “session” is brought to an end.

A session starts with the state opening of parliament, and usually runs for around 12 months, ending with the prorogation of the session. There are normally five sessions between general elections.

How does it work?

Prorogation is what is known as a “prerogative power” exercised by the Crown on the advice of the Privy Council – an advisory body to the monarch.

Essentially, the government of the day advises the Crown to prorogue and that request is acquiesced to.

So it’s pretty straightforward, then?

In 2019, with parliament deadlocked over Brexit, Boris Johnson’s government advised the Queen to prorogue as a way of stopping MPs from preventing the UK’s departure from the European Union without a deal.

Despite the monarch being assured that the measure was legal, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not. As a result, parliament was instantly recalled and Johnson apologised to the Queen.

What do MPs do during prorogation?

While parliament is prorogued, MPs and peers cannot formally debate government policy and legislation, submit questions, scrutinise through parliamentary committees or introduce legislation of their own.

It means hundreds of MPs will once again return to their constituencies next week before going back to Westminster in time for the King’s Speech.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said parliament should be recalled if Israel invades Gaza, a request which Speaker Lindsay Hoyle appeared to look favourably upon in the Commons yesterday.

What happens at the state opening?

The state opening of parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the King’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session.

Although is it read from his throne in the House of Lords by the King, the speech will in fact have been written by the government.

At the last state opening of parliament, in May last year, the then Prince Charles read out the Queen’s Speech on his mother’s behalf. This year’s event will therefore be the first time he has delivered the speech as the monarch.

The event is steeped in pomp and ceremony, and begins with a procession from Buckingham Palace to parliament.

The King will travel in the Irish state coach, an ornate four-horse-drawn carriage.

A separate coach carrying the royal regalia – the Imperial State Crown, the Cap of Maintenance and Sword of State – precedes the monarch.

He will enter parliament via through the Sovereign’s Entrance under the Victoria Tower, and the royal standard replaces the union flag over Westminster until the King leaves the palace at the end of the ceremony.

When inside, the sovereign dons the Imperial State Crown and ceremonial robes before making their way to the House of Lords.

What happens next?

Before the King delivers the speech, the parliamentary official known as Black Rod summons MPs from the House of Commons to the Lords to listen to it.

In a part of the ceremony symbolising the Commons’ independence from the Crown, Black Rod has the door shut in their face and has to bang on it using their staff in order to be let in.

Which, when you think about it, is just weird.

Then what?

Once the King’s Speech is over, MPs return to the Commons and, over the next few days, debate its contents.

Once that is out of the way, the next session of parliament – and the countdown to the general election – gets properly underway.


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