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It is reported tonight that Dominic Raab, in his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party, has indicated he would be prepared to prorogue Parliament. Presumably the purpose would be to prevent Parliament voting against a no-deal Brexit, so that Britain could be taken out of the European Union contrary to Parliament's will.

When Charles I did this in 1629, the problem he had was that during the twelve years that parliament did not sit, the King had no means of raising taxation. Later, the 1689 Bill of Rights forbade the raising of taxation without representation.

So if Dominic Raab, as Prime Minister, advised the Queen to prorogue parliament, what would there be to stop anyone withholding their taxes with impunity?

If anyone thinks this is a silly question, I seem to recall that in the late 1970s the Australian Government did find itself almost in the position of having to stand down its military because Parliament would not pass the Finance Act. And it was only recently that the US federal government was unable to pay many of its staff when Congress refused to pass their equivalent of the Finance Act.

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    Can I suggest that the title (but not the body of the question) be made more generic, as the question could apply in the future as well. E.g.: "If Parliament were prorogued for a long period, how would the government raise funds?" – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 9:59
  • On a related subject: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/41836/… – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 13:11
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    It should be noted that US federal government shutdowns are about the government being unable to spend money, they are perfectly able to collect taxes. – pboss3010 Jun 6 '19 at 13:58
  • @owjburnham How mandatory is it really? If the Queen objected, could the PM just ignore her, or would Parliament have to pass a law stripping the Queen of that power? – divibisan Jun 6 '19 at 21:10
  • @divibisan That's a good question, and I should have said "effectively mandatory" when I wrote my edit summary. But the fact that I've had three goes at writing this sentence goes some way to show that the idea of her objecting is kind of unthinkable. Some people have been panicking at the thought that she might even be put in the position of being "advised" to do something so controversial, because it drags her into politics. Longer answer available if you want to ask it as a full question, although I suspect it might have already been asked in some form. – owjburnham Jun 6 '19 at 21:19
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Not all taxes need annual parliamentary authorisation; income and corporation tax do, but VAT doesn't, for example. So it is, in theory, plausible that if the current authorisation were to lapse, then it would not be possible for the government to continue to collect income and corporation tax until fresh approval was granted.

Also, as far as I can tell, the government doesn't need parliamentary approval to borrow money, so it could fall back on that.

In any case, unless it was timed badly (e.g. if the previous approval period expired during the gap), a short prorogation would not affect these. Note, for example, that the same issues apply when Parliament is dissolved prior to a general election, and hence doesn't sit for a few weeks until the new Parliament is elected and sworn in.

However, a long prorogation would eventually run into other problems.

Firstly, although the government would be able to raise some funds without parliament, parliament still needs to regularly approve government expenditure, via Appropriation Acts and Consolidated Fund Acts.

Secondly, as another consequence of the Bill of Rights, annual parliamentary approval is required for the continued existence of the UK armed forces. One can only speculate as to what would happen if that approval were to lapse.

Whatever may happen, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act specifies that the current parliament will end in time for an election on the first Thursday in May 2022. That can only be changed if parliament itself decides otherwise.

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  • What I understand you to be saying is that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would actually stand in the way of any prorogation. It all seems to me to be academic since Speaker Bercow has today made clear that no prorogation against the will of parliament will take place. Where that leaves Generalissimo Raab I'm not sure. – WS2 Jun 6 '19 at 11:47
  • @WS2: no, the opposite. FPTA specifically excludes prorogation from parliamentary control, leaving it in the hands of the monarch, i.e. the government. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 11:49
  • So Raab could do a Charles I. Is that what you are saying? – WS2 Jun 6 '19 at 11:58
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    @WS2: sort of. Charles I dissolved parliament, rather than proroguing. When Parliament is dissolved, there is no parliament and there are no MPs, until a new election is held. Proroguing ends the session, but MPs remain as MPs; parliament cannot then meet until a new session begins. FPTA removed the power to dissolve parliament from the monarch, and gave it to parliament; but the power to prorogue remains with the monarch, and hence, the Prime Minister. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 13:08
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    @WS2: you can double check what Steve said at instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/proroguing-parliament You don't have to go back to Charles I; 1948 would suffice. – Fizz Jun 6 '19 at 18:26
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I'm not sure of the details, but presumably he (or any other leader hoping to force a no-deal Brexit) might hope to do so in view of the fact that Parliament has already approved a budget for this year. It's the debate for the next year's budget which might be problematic, but not hugely so:

The 2017 budget took place on Wednesday 22 November 2017, and the Chancellor presented the 2018 budget on Monday 29 October 2018. Since 2017 the United Kingdom budget has taken place in the Autumn in order to allow major tax changes to occur annually, well before the start of the fiscal year.

The new Brexit deadline is 31 October. And there's the summer vacation (July-August) followed by party conferences recess (September-October) as well in between:

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More likely Parliament would not be entirely prorogued (suspended) as soon as the new leader takes office, but since clawing the parliamentary timetable is hard... it might be enough to do prorogue parliament closer to the Brexit deadline.

Nevertheless, for the contrary opinion:

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has said any suggestion that Parliament would not play its part on Brexit was "simply unimaginable".


Also, this idea is not terribly new, back in January:

Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Prime Minister should prorogue Parliament before MPs have a chance to vote for an extension of Article 50 to become law. Prorogation would mean the end of the parliamentary session and therefore all draft laws currently making their way through the Commons and Lords would fall. A no-deal Brexit deal would then happen by default.

Finally, I'm almost certain UK residents would not be able to suspend paying their taxes if parliament is prorogued, as you suggest. The UK tax laws are almost certainly not dependant on a Parliament being in session. (If you want to investigate this last issue further, I suggest you ask on law SE.)

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  • Are you actually saying the UK government, might breach the 1689 Bill of Rights, and simply keep the money collected in respect of a period whilst parliament was prorogued? Do you believe that the Supreme Court would accept that as legitimate? – WS2 Jun 6 '19 at 7:32
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    @WS2: authorisation for levying taxes which require it typically lasts for a set period before it must be renewed. Until then, it doesn't matter whether parliament is sitting or not. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 8:59
  • @WS2: source for the above:: "Income tax is charged for the tax year 2019-20." – Steve Melnikoff Jun 6 '19 at 10:02
  • The following is what the Bill of Rights says: That levying Money for or to the Use of the Crowne by pretence of Prerogative without Grant of Parlyament for longer time or in other manner then the same is or shall be granted is Illegall. The thing to do, I guess, is for someone to table an amendment to the autumn Finance Bill postponing approval until some date in November. Hold on - can't do that because first reading is not usually until January - but I'm sure you get my drift here. If there is a majority opposed to no-deal some way will be found. – WS2 Jun 7 '19 at 20:51
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Prorogation is a perfectly normal part of the Parliamentary process. Parliament is normally prorogued every year, between the end of one session and the start of the next, and also for a month or so during general elections. Taxes continue to be paid, and payable. A prorogation lasting for years could cause problems, but what’s under discussion here is one lasting for weeks, which would not.

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