Cheered on by US President Donald Trump, Johnson launched his boldest move yet to take the country out of the European Union by October 31 with or without a divorce deal, by setting a new date for a state opening of parliament.
Known as the Queen’s Speech, the formal event will be held on October 14 and be preceded by a suspension of the House of Commons, meaning parliament will not sit between mid-September and mid-October.
The move, which had to be approved by Queen Elizabeth, limits the time opponents have to derail a disorderly Brexit, but also increases the chance that Johnson could face a vote of no-confidence in his government, and possibly an election.
It also risks dragging the 93-year-old, politically neutral Queen into the dispute.
So incensed were leaders of the opposition parties by Johnson’s plan that several have written to the monarch asking for a meeting to express their concern.
“There will be ample time in parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues, ample time,” Johnson told reporters on Wednesday.
Asked if he was trying to block MPs from delaying Britain’s EU departure, he replied: “That is completely untrue.”
The decision to limit parliamentary scrutiny weeks before the country’s most contentious policy decision in decades prompted an immediate outcry.
“Make no mistake, this is a very British coup,” John McDonnell, the second most powerful man in the opposition Labour Party, said.
More than half a million people signed an online petition to object and the pound fell sharply.
Cries of “Shame on You” and “Stop the Coup” could be heard from inside the walls of the parliamentary estate, as a couple of hundred protesters gathered near the bank of the River Thames to wave EU flags and show their disgust.
“Democracy is so important. It’s taught from such a young age as such a vital thing about being a British person and today just completely ruins that, tramples it and throws it out,” said 17-year-old student Dylan Butlin, one of the protesters.
A group of cross-party MPs sought a legal injunction and the Speaker of parliament said the nation’s democratic process was at risk.
The Church of England said a chaotic Brexit would hurt the poor and further damage a fractured nation.
But Johnson’s gamble was welcomed by Brexiteers, including Trump, who said “Boris is exactly what the UK has been looking for, & will prove to be ‘a great one!’ Love UK”
On Tuesday, the leaders of Britain’s opposition parties had agreed to seek to use parliamentary procedure to force Johnson to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit beyond October 31.
They may now try to bring him down.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would call a no-confidence vote when the time was right.
With Johnson holding a working majority of just one seat in the 650-seat parliament, members of his party who oppose a no-deal Brexit will have to decide where their loyalties lie.
The pro-EU Conservative Party lawmaker Dominic Grieve said he would find it difficult to “keep confidence in the government” in the circumstances while Philip Hammond, a former finance minister, said pro-EU politicians needed to act now.
In a sign of the pressure building across the political system, media reports said Ruth Davidson, who led a resurgence for the Conservatives in Scotland, had decided to quit.
The BBC said her resignation, expected to be announced on Thursday, was not sparked by the suspension but had been coming for several months over family pressures and disagreements with Johnson’s approach.
She sits in the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh and not Westminster.
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