What does prorogation mean for charities?

Yesterday, the Queen approved a government proposal to prorogue parliament form mid-September until 14 October, when the new government will have its first Queen’s speech. There has been speculation for months about the government using this device to block parliament from preventing no-deal. We thought we’d take a look at what it means for charities, and in particular why it means you should be planning for both a no-deal Brexit and an election.

What is prorogation?

Most parliamentary sessions last for a year. A new session starts with a Queen’s speech where the government outlines its plans for the next year, including what legislation they are planning to bring forward. Before the start of the new session, the previous session needs to end, and this is what’s known as prorogation.

At the end of a session, unfinished legislation will fall unless it is quickly passed before the prorogation, or a motion is passed to carry the legislation over into the next session. So if charities are supportive of a bill currently going through parliament, it’s worth being in touch with officials to see whether they plan to pass it in the next couple of weeks, or at the very least carry it over into the new session.

Prorogation is a prerogative power, which means that it can be exercised by the government in the name of the Queen, without parliament having a say. This makes it unlike recesses, where MPs have to agree the days on which parliament will not sit.

Normally it only lasts for about a week or so, so this one is unusual. What has caused particular concern is that this comes at a time when MPs are seeking as much time as possible to find a way to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

Why has the government done this now?

There are a couple of theories as to why. On the face of it, this seems to be a reaction to the suggestion that anti no-deal MPs were planning to vote against the motion approving the recess for party conferences. This would provide parliament an additional three weeks to find a legislative solution that would delay no-deal.

Prorogation also means that if legislation is not passed in the next two weeks, it would have to start from scratch after the Queen’s speech – under the current rules carry over motions can only be proposed by ministers. So at the very least, this decision has made it more difficult, though not impossible, to further delay Brexit. It’s also worth reading this Buzzfeed article which has looked at other ways of limiting parliamentary time that are apparently being considered.

However, there is another theory that this is designed to provoke a stand-off next week that will lead either to a successful vote of no confidence, or provide an opportunity for the government to call an election. The pretext for an election being that parliament is defying the will of the people, and that they need enough MPs to ensure Brexit happens on 31 October. It is now generally expected that there will be an election in the autumn, not least because the current numbers in the House of Commons mean that a new legislative programme will be very difficult to deliver.

The chance of no-deal and an election have both increased

The main impact of this decision is that an extension to Article 50 will now be much harder for parliament to secure, which in turn increases the likelihood of other options. So charities should be thinking about their preparations for both of these outcomes, which of course are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

It’s worth saying that the prospects of a deal have also increased. A Queen’s speech on 14 October does mean that if a deal were secured at the EU summit in October, there could be enough time to get it through parliament. If at that stage it is the only option to avoid no-deal, there could be a lot more pressure on opposition MPs to agree.

Preparing for no-deal

A no-deal Brexit is likely to cause short and long term challenges for charities, and we have consistently argued that it should be avoided. However given the likelihood of it taking place, it is essential that you have given some thought to the potential impacts.

Some of the impacts, such as what happens to the economy and what will the knock-on effects be to demand for your services, could be difficult to quantify. But you could think about what you would do if there was a sudden increase in demand.

It’s also important to consider operational questions, such as what it would mean if you have staff who are EU nationals, and where you might be exposed if overseas supply chains are disrupted.

In the longer term you will need to consider what this means for the issues that you cover, particularly where the regulatory framework is derived from EU legislation. In particular charities with an interest in agricultural and environmental regulation will want to closely scrutinise any new proposals around trade.

We will be publishing some new guidance for charities on this in the next couple of weeks which will help you to consider the key issues for charities (you can sign up for our emails here), but in the meantime, you may find some of these resources helpful:

Preparing for an election

It’s also worth thinking about how you will approach an election, and what you will be campaigning on. While the focus of any election is likely to be on the varying approaches to Brexit, it is likely that parties will also want to set out key policies in other areas. It may be possible to be part of that conversation, and to influence what happens in the next parliament.

We’ve also started putting in some time to think about how we’ll engage with candidates, whether we want to do any events and how we’re going to structure our manifesto asks. These may also be things that you want to consider.

Crucially, it’s a good time to familiarise yourself with the law on campaigning. This means looking at the guidance for non-party campaigners (the Lobbying Act), and reading what we said during the 2017 election. Remember that for most of your campaigns the main thing to consider will be the general guidance around campaigning (CC9) and how it applies during elections.

All in all, our politics mean we’re likely to have an unpredictable autumn, so anything you can do to be more prepared for what comes up, the better.

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Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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