The UK government’s decision to prorogue parliament in the run-up to an expected no-deal Brexit shows “utter contempt for democracy”, the University and College Union said.
The Queen approved on 28 August a request from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend parliament for five weeks from mid-September, severely limiting MPs’ options to prevent the UK crashing out of the European Union without an agreement.
Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said that Mr Johnson’s move to prorogue parliament “has confirmed his utter contempt for democracy”.
“Today’s decision has placed the country in uncharted territory, and increased the uncertainty facing staff and students across the UK,” Dr Grady said. “It will seriously undermine the ability of our elected MPs to scrutinise the impact of the government’s Brexit plans on further and higher education, and must be opposed.”
Under the government’s plans, parliament would not return until a Queen’s speech on 14 October, ahead of the UK’s expected departure from the EU on 31 October.
Failing to agree a deal before that date would likely result in UK-based researchers being excluded from EU research framework programmes, and from the Erasmus+ mobility programme.
Without access to Horizon Europe, the EU’s next research programme, UK universities could lose the ability to host European Research Council grant holders – among the world’s best scientists – and lose out on the £1 billion a year they currently receive from the overall scheme.
The Brexit crisis is likely to place increasing pressure on Jo Johnson, the universities minister, who resigned from Theresa May’s government in order to support a second EU referendum, but returned to his old brief when his elder brother entered No 10.
Dr Grady said that UCU members needed to “channel our anger and despair into action”. “I will be attending the protest at Downing Street on Saturday, and I urge all members of UCU to join me,” she said.
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