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Boris Johnson suspension of Parliament sparks Northern Ireland war of words

By Andrew Woodcock and Adrian Rutherford

DUP leader Arlene Foster has defended Boris Johnson as the Prime Minister faced accusations that he is committing a "constitutional outrage" by asking the Queen to allow him to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

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Opposition leaders believe the move is an attempt to stop them from blocking a no-deal Brexit, prompting critics to accuse him of acting like a "tin-pot dictator".

After a day of high drama, protesters descended on Westminster last night, demanding the PM "stops the coup", with hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition against prorogation within hours.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster said the PM's move was "democratic and entirely sensible".

"It is time for everyone to set aside the faux outrage and get on with the business that the public expect us to do," she states.

"We will continue to always seek the best outcome for Northern Ireland, and that also includes during the next session of Parliament following the Queen's Speech."

Those most critical of the PM were, she said, missing the mood of the public. But it angered others, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood writing to MPs urging them to back a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the decision appeared to be an "abuse of Executive power".

The Queen approved the order from the Prime Minister for Parliament to be prorogued from the second week in September until October 14 - just 17 days before the scheduled date of Brexit on Halloween. Approval was given at a session of the Privy Council in Balmoral despite letters from Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson requesting urgent meetings with the Queen to urge her to withhold it.

Commons speaker John Bercow denounced the suspension of sittings - due to begin between September 9 and 12 - as a "constitutional outrage", while former Chancellor Philip Hammond described it as "profoundly undemocratic".

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said he is seeking advice on the legality of Mr Johnson's move, saying he had "no doubt" his motive was "to bypass a sovereign parliament that opposes his policy on Brexit".

Mr Johnson insisted it was "completely untrue" to suggest he was shutting parliament because of Brexit.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Ruth Davidson is set to resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives today, though party insiders insisted her departure was not linked to her opposition to Mr Johnson's Brexit plans.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Protests in Westminister over the move
Notification that the Queen has approved an order to prorogue Parliament

Downing Street aides said MPs would have the opportunity to discuss the government's EU withdrawal plans during a debate on the Queen's Speech and to take part in amendable votes following a crunch European Council summit on October 17.

But the move dramatically reduces the time available to MPs to attempt to pass legislation to block no-deal and makes an early attempt to oust Mr Johnson in a vote of no confidence more likely.

Mr Corbyn revealed that opponents of no-deal still aim to table legislation next week before moving on to a no-confidence motion "at some point".

In his letter to the Queen, the Labour leader warned that Mr Johnson's manoeuvre would "deprive the electorate of the opportunity to have their representatives hold the government to account".

Mr Hammond, who has become a prominent backbench critic of no-deal since quitting government before Mr Johnson's elevation, said: "It would be a constitutional outrage if Parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis. Profoundly undemocratic."

Mr Johnson said the Queen's Speech would allow him to set out a new agenda focusing on "helping the NHS, fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living".

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: "Make no mistake, this is a very British coup."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Johnson was "acting more like a dictator than a Prime Minister in what is still supposed to be a parliamentary democracy".

Last night thousands of people protested against Mr Johnson's plan in rallies in London, Edinburgh and other cities across the UK.

At Westminster, crowds blocked traffic and some staged a sit-down protest in Parliament Square chanting "stop the coup" while others headed for Downing Street.

A petition demanding that moves to suspend Parliament are halted quickly hit 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for debate by MPs. Last night it was on course to pass a million signatures.

Belfast Telegraph


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