EU Concerned on U.K. Democracy After ‘Strange’ Parliament Move
(Bloomberg) -- European Union politicians expressed concern about the democratic legitimacy of Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks, signaling the move could harm the U.K.’s bid for changes to the Brexit deal.
With the British House of Commons set to reconvene on Tuesday after its summer break, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the plan to suspend proceedings the following week until Oct. 14 was “strange.”
“Westminster is the mother of all parliaments, and now you have a situation where that parliament is in danger of being sidelined,” Asselborn told reporters before a meeting with his 27 EU counterparts in Helsinki. “It’s a way of proceeding in democracy that doesn’t quite conform to the rules. I’m worried.”
His remarks followed Twitter posts by Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, in which he suggested that the move could be an affront to democracy.
“If the rationale was to scare the EU into renegotiation by removing parliament as the final obstacle to no-deal Brexit, the U.K. government has been gravely misled,” Roettgen said. “The executive denying parliament its democratic say at this decisive moment cannot be rewarded by the EU.”
Former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the move -- known as prorogation -- as “a sad day for the first modern European parliamentary democracy.”
The EU has gradually resumed negotiations with the U.K. over the Brexit deal -- originally agreed to in November but rejected by the British Parliament -- but has said it’s up to Johnson’s government to present realistic ideas, which it hasn’t yet done.
Some European officials have said the move to suspend Parliament might enable Johnson to get MPs’ backing for a deal that isn’t as radically different as he’s promised.
Johnson’s government claims prorogation is a normal tactic and essential to introducing a new program of legislation. But critics, including some members of his Conservative party, say it’s being used to keep members of parliament from blocking a potential no-deal Brexit.
“The idea that this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters as he headed into the Helsinki meeting, which is scheduled to discuss Iran and the western Balkans rather than Brexit. “It’s actually lawful, it’s perfectly proper, there is a precedent for it.”
Johnson’s top Brexit negotiator, David Frost, asked the EU to intensify talks at a meeting with European Commission officials in Brussels on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Commission said. Talks will be held twice a week throughout September.
The sticking point remains the contentious “backstop,” which keeps the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Johnson says the backstop must be scrapped, while the EU says it’s open to alternative proposals.
Some EU governments are less worried about the decision to prorogue Parliament, believing that it may actually help the negotiations.
“We are not concerned by the suspension in London, we are are concerned about Brexit,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said as he arrived for the meeting in Helsinki. “It’s possible to get an agreement if there’s real will.”
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