After what many MPs described as “a long, wild and historic night in Westminster”, the Mother of Parliaments was prorogued at 2am on Tuesday for five weeks at Boris Johnson’s instigation — the longest period in modern times.
“It’s the end of a very long and shameful day,” wrote Luciana Berger, the former Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree who has defected to the Lib Dems.
The distinguished historian Sir Simon Schama delivered his damning verdict: “Shutting parliament during the gravest national crisis since the war is an act of grotesque cowardice; but history will remember the infamy and those responsible for it with indelible contempt.”
After warm tributes were said to the Speaker John Bercow, a thorn in the Tory side, the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith said: “The uproar in Parliament wasn’t just pantomime politics — there is genuine fury and incredulity that at such a crucial moment for the nation, the place is being shut down.”
Parliament will not return until the Queen’s Speech on October 14 when Boris’s government will set out its legislative agenda for the new session of Parliament.
He failed for a second time to secure an early general election when a motion demanding one was passed by 293 votes to 46. Many Labour and other Opposition MPs did not even bother to vote which means Boris did not get the support of 434 MPs — two thirds of the Commons — needed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
The Commons has voted though a law which makes it mandatory for him to go to Brussels and extend the Brexit date from October 31 to January 31 next year — except in the unlikely event that an agreed deal is ratified by Parliament.
Boris made it clear that he would not under any circumstance do so. Some legal experts have warned him he risks being sent to prison.
“I will not ask for another delay,” Boris said. “The people of this country have had enough of the delectable disputations.”
This brought the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to his feet: “The only point of any importance that the Prime Minister has just included in his speech is his clear indication that he does not intend to follow the law that has just been passed that requires him to ask for an extension in certain circumstances.”
Eve Boris offered a compliment of sorts to Bercow, who will be gone latest by October 31.
“I join others hon. Members in thanking you for your long and distinguished service to the House,” the Prime Minister said.
“We may not have always agreed on everything, but I believe you have always acted in what you judge to be the national interest.”
But history will probably judge that Bercow ensured that the executive could not ride roughshod over backbench MPs. However, his decision to allow many debates on Brexit enraged Right-wing Tories.
They were furious when he condemned Boris’s decision to prorogue Parliament as “a constitutional outrage”.
Labour MP Sir George Howarth said: “I want to pay tribute to the way you have conducted yourself. You have stood up for the rights of this House and — often in the face of criticism, usually from Government Members — you have shown great courage in carrying out your responsibilities, and I pay tribute to you.”
He was followed by another Labour MP, Phil Wilson: “First, I am sorry to see you go, Mr Speaker, because you have stood up for Back Benchers in the past 10 years, and you have been a great respecter of the Chamber.”
Mike Gapes, a former Labour who sits for the Independent Group for Change, added his voice: “First, may I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for what you have done standing up for representative parliamentary democracy against an arrogant and overbearing executive.”
Bercow will certainly be a difficult act to follow.
Harriet Harman, the longest-standing female MP in the Commons who has announced her candidacy for the post, said: “I think the Speaker has to be scrupulously neutral as between different views within the House.
The Speaker doesn’t vote, doesn’t take sides in debates. But, the Speaker is not neutral as between Parliament and the executive.
The Speaker has to be on parliament’s side and stand up for Parliament. He (Bercow) has been right to say to ministers, ’You have got to come to the House. You have got to account for yourself.’ ”