Government and Parliament relations deteriorating due to Brexit and minority government

A new paper from the Institute for Government looking at different areas of Parliament’s activity in the 2017-19 session finds that the relationship between Parliament and government has deteriorated in many areas, most recently in relation to prorogation. 

Control of the parliamentary agenda has been a key battleground. The government used its control of parliamentary time to avoid scheduling any time for opposition-led debate over a five-month period between late 2018 and early 2019 – a key period in the Brexit process. 

The report finds an increase in public engagement with Parliament, with more members of the public than ever before have been watching parliamentary action live on television and online: there has been a 237% increase in the average daily viewers of Parliamentlive.tv between 2017 and 2019, with viewing figures peaking at moments of key Brexit drama.

When it comes to the everyday work of Parliament since 2017, the report finds that:

  • When Parliament is prorogued next week, the longest parliamentary session on modern record will come to an end. When the session ends, it will have lasted over 340 days – beating the previous 295-day record set in 2010/12.
  • There has been a dramatic rise in security costs as MPs face unprecedented threats. In the 2017/18 financial year, a total of £4.2m was spent on providing additional security assistance to MPs – over £4m more than was spent annually only two years ago. Deep political divisions over Brexit have contributed to many of these threats, but they have also been fuelled by the rise of social media, with many MPs reporting experiences of persistent online abuse.
  • Parliament has passed a comparable amount of primary legislation to most previous parliamentary sessions: 48 government bills have so far made it into law, with only six relating to Brexit.
  • To try and limit defeats in the Commons, the government has kept its legislation beyond Brexit relatively narrow and uncontroversial – with bills on smart meters and circus animals – rather than attempts at major public service reform.
  • Parliamentarians have had to scrutinise a large amount of secondary legislation to prepare the statute book for Brexit, with the burden of legislating falling unevenly between government departments and across the session.
  • There has been a dramatic increase in the use of backbench procedures such as Urgent Questions (UQs) to hold ministers to account – MPs have demanded ministers come to the Commons to answer their UQs on a record 287 occasions during the session.

Joe Marshall, Researcher at the Institute for Government and report author, said:

“As the current session comes to an end, the prime minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament and attempts by MPs to prevent no deal have placed additional pressure on Parliament’s ways of working and its relationship with government – raising wider questions about the need to reform how parliamentary time is allocated and government activity is scrutinised.” 

Dr Alice Lilly, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government and report author, said:

“The politics of the session have been shaped by both Brexit and minority government. But Brexit hasn’t affected every aspect of parliamentary activity, and the fact that MPs have spent most of their time on other business is a good reminder that they have plenty else to be doing besides.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. Full report can be found on our website.  
  2. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  3. For more information, including data to reproduce any charts, please contact press@instituteforgovernment.org.uk / 0785 031 3791.
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