Boris Johnson Suspended Parliament Unlawfully, UK Supreme Court Finds

The United Kingdom Supreme Court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was acting unlawfully when he suspended Parliament in August for five weeks, a move which anti-Brexit campaigners claimed was intended to thwart their attempts to prevent Britain leaving the European Union.

In a shock ruling which strongly went against the government on every count, the Supreme Court in London unanimously found Tuesday morning that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was not only unlawful but was null and void, meaning it legally did not take place. Parliament is now free to sit again as soon as desired by the speakers of both houses, the court explained.

Update 1220: Parliament will resume session tomorrow

Commons speaker John Bercow has spoken to reporters outside Parliament, answering the questions over when Parliament would resume, given the Supreme Court has given it leave to do so whenever it wishes. The answer is Wednesday morning, with opportunities for members to make urgent questions, request emergency debates, and to hold ministers to account. Expect fireworks.

Update 1115: Calls for the Prime Minister to resign

Anti-Brexit politicians have leapt upon the ruling as resembling a fatal blow against Boris Johnson, who it is claimed could be the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British history if he were ousted now. But what or who could replace Mr Johnson is not clear as no single party can command a majority in Parliament.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed his party’s annual conference in Brighton as the ruling was made, and told the delegates there that the Prime Minister should “consider his position”. Speaking outside the Supreme Court former Tory MP turned independent Anna Soubry also called on the Prime Minister to resign, saying it was time for what she unironically calls a government of national unity to take power. Presumably formed of a coalition of opposition parties, the purpose of the much-discussed “unity” government would be to overturn Brexit, it has been claimed — despite delivering Brexit being the majority position in the United Kingdom.

The original story continues below:

The first question was whether the court even had the right to consider the question — a matter of jurisdiction. Some had argued the division of powers under the UK constitution meant it would not be proper for the unelected judiciary to make decisions on the acts of the executive — the government — but the court disagreed, stating they believed they had the right. In the words of Lady Brenda Hale who read out the unanimous decision of the 11 justices, the matter was “judicable”, and for for them to decide on.

Lady Hale explained: “…this was not an ordinary prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s speech. It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role in five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and the exit day on the 31st of October. Proroguing Parliament is quite different from parliament going into recess.

“While Parliament is Prorogued, neither house can meet, debate, or pass legislation. Neither house can debate government policy. Nor may members ask written or oral questions of ministers, or meet and take evidence in committees.”

Of the decision to Prorogue itself, Lady Hale said: “The decision to ask her majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing Parliament from carrying out its constitutional functions without justification.”

Mr Johnson had used a mechanism known in Westminster parlance as Prorogation to suspend Parliament, usually a normal and regular event in Parliamentary life, but one met this time with outrage by anti-Brexiteers. Normal Parliamentary sessions have lasted between one and two years, being regularly suspended to clear out old unfinished legislation and to allow new government programmes to be launched.

But amid the endless Parliamentary discussion over whether to honour the result of the 2016 referendum which saw the British people vote by a margin of over one million votes — the largest democratic mandate given in British history — this Parliamentary session has rumbled on, becoming the longest since the infamous ‘long Parliament’ of the English Civil War.

The government under Mr Johnson insisted given those circumstances, and the fact the UK government has not yet been able to introduce new domestic legislation, it was reasonable to suspend Parliament.

Anti-Brexit activists claim the Prime Minister not only lied to the country, but lied to the Queen, as under the British constitutional system she has to be asked as a formality to suspend Parliament.

The Associated Press has created this handy timeline of the most recent events leading up to today, to give some context for today’s ruling:

July 24, 2019: Boris Johnson becomes prime minister after winning a party leadership contest to succeed Theresa May. He vows to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a deal.

August 28: Johnson suspends Parliament for a five-week period ending Oct. 14. Queen Elizabeth II approves his request, as she is required to do under Britain’s constitutional monarchy. He says it is a routine decision to set the stage for announcement of his new domestic agenda, but House of Commons Speaker John Bercow calls it a “constitutional outrage.”

August 29: Activist Gina Miller launches legal action against Johnson at the High Court in London. Her case is subsequently joined by former prime minister John Major and others.

August 30: In a separate case, a judge in Scotland refuses to grant an emergency measure blocking the suspension of Parliament but schedules a full hearing at a later date.

September 4: The Court of Session in Scotland rejects the bid to have the suspension declared unlawful.

September 5: The High Court in London hears Miller’s case against the suspension. Her lawyers argue the move was an “unlawful abuse of power” by the prime minister.

September 6: The High Court in London rejects Miller’s case. She vows to take it to the Supreme Court.

September 11: The Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland rules that the suspension was illegal and was intended to “stymie” Parliament ahead of the Brexit deadline.

September 17: A three-day hearing on both cases begins at the Supreme Court, with 11 justices presiding.

September 24: The Supreme Court is scheduled to announce its decision.


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