British Court OKs Suspension of UK Parliament

(CN) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a rare victory Friday when a legal challenge against his controversial decision to suspend Parliament was shot down by a British court.

Anti-Brexit protesters gather in London on Aug. 31, 2019, to oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

On Friday, the High Court in London ruled that Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament for nearly five weeks was lawful. The plaintiffs in the case, who include former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, say an appeal will be heard Sept. 17 in the Supreme Court.

On Aug. 28, Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament from next week until Oct. 14. His surprise move immediately sparked outrage, legal challenges and large protests with people shouting, “Stop the coup.”

The High Court is expected to issue written reasons for its decision next week. A similar challenge against Johnson was shot down in a Scottish court earlier in the week. Another legal challenge was being heard Friday in Belfast.

All three cases ultimately are seeking to stop Britain from leaving the European Union without a deal, as Johnson has said he will do unless European leaders buckle and give the U.K. concessions. The major sticking point is over the future status of Northern Ireland, which the EU and Ireland say must be closely aligned to EU rules and laws to maintain the peace in Northern Ireland.

Parliament is routinely suspended – or, to use the technical term, prorogued – between sessions. But Johnson’s move on the eve of Britain’s Oct. 31 deadline to leave the EU was criticized as an undemocratic attempt to thwart Parliament’s ability to stop him from exiting the EU without a deal.

The possibility of Britain’s departure from the EU without a deal has increased since Parliament rejected a wide-ranging deal that former Prime Minister Theresa May struck with the EU. Under that deal, Britain would have kept close ties to the EU. A fractured Parliament rejected that offer three times, with some arguing that it kept the U.K. too closely tied to the EU and others saying ties were not close enough.

The legal challenges argue that Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful because it restricts Parliament’s ability to hold Johnson’s government to account and undermines Parliament’s power.

The government argues that suspending Parliament is a routine functioning of Britain’s system of government and not subject to legal scrutiny. The government argues that Parliament has never had a say in when a session is suspended.

These legal challenges test Britain’s political system and the conventions that govern the relationship between the monarchy and Parliament. The monarchy formally opens and closes sessions of Parliament.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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