Supreme Court Rules Suspension of Parliament Unlawful?

credit to: Johanna Ross, journalist

Supreme Court Rules Suspension of Parliament Unlawful,Johnson ‘strongly disagree’

The UK Brexit crisis deepens as the Prime Minister is found to have suspended Parliament unlawfully and misled the Queen, in a unanimous court judgement...

Johanna Ross, journalist

In a landmark ruling, the highest court of the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court, has decided that the instruction given to prorogue parliament for 5 weeks was ‘unlawful’. Summarising the verdict, Lady Hale said on Monday that ‘The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.’

The judges therefore concluded that parliament has therefore not in fact not been prorogued, with Speaker John Bercow announcing that parliament would not be ‘recalled’ as such on Wednesday but would ‘resume’. 

It could not have been more of a blow for Boris Johnson and his cabinet. Only two months in the job, the Prime Minister has already lost his majority, including 22 MPs, lost every single vote to date in parliament and is now being accused of misleading the Queen herself. Having insisted that the prorogation of parliament was in order to set out a new legislative agenda in a Queen’s speech when MPs return to parliament, Johnson has been found to have used this as a way of avoiding scrutiny of his plans to engineer an exit from the EU on October 31st.  There are now calls for him to resign as his position is deemed untenable. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was important that ‘no Prime Minister should believe they can act with impunity and remain in office when they have acted unlawfully’ and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson should now ‘consider his position’ given his ‘contempt for democracy and abuse of power’.

Yet speaking in New York Tuesday ahead of his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Boris Johnson remained defiant. Far from flying home tomorrow for the resumption of parliament, he plans to continue with his schedule in New York, as if trying to avoid creating any impression of panic. He said he ‘strongly disagreed’ with the judgement and that he would still seek to prorogue parliament at some point in order to arrange a Queen’s speech. Furthermore, he said that ‘as the law stands’ the UK would still leave the EU on October 31st ‘come what may’.  This is despite a law having been passed earlier this month by parliament to prevent Johnson from taking the country out of Europe without a deal. 

The pressure is therefore now on Boris Johnson to get some kind of withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU. And yet with issues such as the Irish backstop question still unresolved, no-one is holding out hope that he will succeed in getting a deal. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday that it was ‘difficult to see’ how a Brexit deal could be struck, particularly given what he considered to be ‘unacceptable’ changes that Johnson had proposed to the current draft agreement. He said that the UK government wanted, amongst other things, to get rid of the Irish backstop and to ‘change the way the internal market and border controls operate after Brexit’ - suggestions which he indicated the EU could not contemplate. 

The reality is that all paths to Brexit are currently being blocked by the UK Parliament and a way out is not yet clear. A deal seems unlikely to be struck and passed by parliament, a No Deal Brexit has been ruled out, and so has a general election for the very near future. What is looking more possible now is a second referendum on Brexit, or a ‘People’s Vote’ as its been termed, although it’s not clear how this would simplify matters. For to hold another Brexit vote is itself setting a precedent for not respecting the results of future referendums. And if the country were to vote again for Brexit, we would be back at square one in how to negotiate an exit. If, on the other hand, people voted against Brexit, it would leave a good proportion of the country feeling disenfranchised, as the last European elections demonstrated there is still a huge appetite for Brexit.

On Tuesday, at the Labour party conference, Jeremy Corbyn announced Labour plans, if elected to power, to negotiate a deal within three months which would then be put forward to the people in such a ‘People’s Vote’, alongside the option to remain in the EU. Currently it is the only party to suggest this - the Conservatives are set on leaving the EU by the end of October and the Liberal Democrats are now firmly campaigning to cancel Brexit altogether. What is also looking increasingly likely is that parliament will hold a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson - which could happen as early as Wednesday. Boris is unlikely to win this under the circumstances, in which case he would have 14 days to try to win back MPs’s support in the Commons. If he doesn’t succeed, a general election would be called automatically.  However Labour’s Shami Chakrabati said that they would want first of all to secure a Brexit extension, before pursuing an election, so such a vote may not take place for weeks. 

What is not clear is how far Boris Johnson is willing to go to achieve his Brexit ‘come what may’. His rhetoric remains defiant, and he doesn’t indicate that he is in the least perturbed by accusations of misleading the Queen or suspending parliament unlawfully. Speaking to a reporter today he stressed that the ‘legal position’ is that the UK is leaving the EU on October 31st, despite parliament’s law to prevent this from happening. Would he prorogue parliament again and risk once again putting the Queen in an impossible position? Just exactly what Mr Johnson has up his sleeve is anyone’s guess, but judging by the last two months, this is someone prepared to take considerable risks and push our laws to the very limit. Putting not only his reputation, but that of party, country and even that of the Queen herself on the line, Johnson is testing the British constitution in a way it has never been tested before. And he’s not finished yet...