Politics

Petition against UK parliament suspension passes a million signatures amid nationwide protests

Key Points
  • The queen on Wednesday approved Johnson's plan to suspend parliament from September 9 to October 14, restricting time for opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) to try to block a no-deal Brexit.
  • Impromptu protests broke out outside the Palace of Westminster in central London and in cities across the U.K.

A public petition against U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament passed the 1 million signature milestone within its first 24 hours as protests broke out across the country.

The queen on Wednesday approved Johnson's plan to suspend parliament from September 9 to October 14, a highly controversial move which would restrict parliamentary time for opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) to try to block the U.K. leaving the European Union without a deal on October 31.

Sterling slumped 1% on the announcement and were trading down at $1.219 on Thursday morning.

In addition to the petition, impromptu protests broke out outside the Palace of Westminster in central London, with organizers claiming thousands marched from the parliamentary building towards Downing Street, where the Prime Minister's official residence is located.

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Smaller protests also took place in cities such across Britain including Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh, with protesters chanting "save our democracy" and "stop the coup."

Johnson's government has moved to characterize the suspension, or "proroguing" of parliament as a procedural norm in the run up to a Queen's Speech, in which the monarch sets out a new government's plans for the first time after it is formed. Johnson took over as prime minister on July 24 after being elected as the new leader of the ruling Conservative party by its membership, following the resignation of Theresa May.

The prime minister told Sky News on Wednesday that "there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial 17 October summit in parliament for MPs to debate the EU, debate Brexit and all the other issues."

However, the timing of the prorogation has been met with widespread criticism and interpreted as a bid to limit parliament's ability to influence the Brexit outcome. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called the move a "constitutional outrage."

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Members of Johnson's own party have also lashed out at his perceived pursuit of a no-deal scenario. Speaking to CNBC in Westminster on Thursday, veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke said Johnson had yielded to the "fanatic element of his followers."

"I hope it will bring together the sensible majority in parliament who will find an alternative to this, not only debating it properly but actually saving us from just crashing out with a no-deal Brexit, which he is only pursuing because he has sold out to the people he has surrounded himself with, who appear to want it," Clarke said.

Asked if he could consider working in a caretaker government with opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the former cabinet minister added that would take any necessary action to "stop this country creating the childishly disastrous mistake of crashing out with no deal."

Conservative Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom defended the prorogation Thursday morning.

"There will be plenty of time when the House comes back, with a new Queen's Speech and a new parliamentary session, to be able to debate Brexit, to be able to debate the prime minister's new withdrawal agreement, should he succeed in negotiating that with the EU. So I am confident that this is the right thing to do," she told CNBC.

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The U.K. government's official petitions site states that all petitions with over 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in parliament.

This has proven largely symbolic, as a petition for the U.K. to revoke Article 50, which triggered the process of departure from the EU, and remain in the bloc received over 6 million signatures but was flatly rejected by the government in March.