British Supreme Court Says Johnson’s Prorogation Was Illegal

LONDON (CN) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a major blow Tuesday when the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled that he unlawfully persuaded the Queen to suspend Parliament in an effort to usher in Brexit.

A person dressed as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on Tuesday in London after it made its decision on the legality of Johnson’s five-week suspension of Parliament. In a setback for Johnson, Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that the suspension of Parliament was illegal. The ruling Tuesday is a major blow to the prime minister who had suspended Parliament for five weeks, claiming it was a routine closure. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

House of Commons speaker John Bercow said that Britain’s Parliament will prepare to resume proceedings on Wednesday due to the Supreme Court ruling.

 

“I have instructed the House authorities to undertake such steps as are necessary to ensure that the House of Commons sits tomorrow and that it does so at 11:30 a.m.,” Bercow told reporters outside Parliament.

The supreme court ruling opens the possibility of more chaos just weeks before the country is to leave the European Union — and Johnson has hinted he might try to suspend Parliament a second time.

The high court’s unanimous decision immediately reversed the prorogation of Parliament, but did not delve into whether Johnson’s motives were illegal or unethical.

“A decision to prorogue will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing … the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions,” Lady Brenda Hale said from the bench Tuesday morning.

“This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech,” she continued.

Johnson, a fervent supporter of Brexit, says the United Kingdom will leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal. To fight off growing opposition in Parliament, the newly chosen prime minister and former London mayor suspended Parliament.

The move was immediately challenged by several Brexit opponents, including Scottish Prime Minister Joanna Cherry, who claims Johnson misled the queen about the reasons for the five-week prorogation.

“This is a huge victory for the rule of law and for democracy,” Cherry said outside the courthouse. She said the ruling shows that Johnson’s “position is untenable, and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign.”

Gina Miller, who filed one of the challenges against prorogation, also called out Johnson outside the court and hailed the decision. “Today is a win for parliamentary sovereignty,” she said. “It confirms that we are a nation governed by the rule of law, laws that everyone, even the prime minister, is not above.”

A small group of supporters chanted, “Johnson out! Johnson out!” after the remarks.

Others across Britain’s political spectrum lambasted prorogation. Nigel Farage, one of the architects of Brexit, wrote in a tweet: “The calling of a Queen’s Speech and prorogation is the worst political decision ever.”

Prorogation is seen as normal and has occurred in the past, but the timing and duration of this latest iteration called Johnson’s motives into question.

Cherry has severely criticized both Brexit and Johnson, saying he has behaved “as a dictator,” criticizing the move to suspend Parliament as an illegal end-around, and urging other U.K. government leaders to “pull out the stops” to reconvene Parliament.

The Scottish high court ruled this month in favor of Cherry and her colleagues, who challenged the prorogation. In a stunning rebuke to the British government, the three judges on the Scottish high court found Johnson misled Queen Elizabeth II and sought to stymie Parliament when he asked her to suspend the lawmaking body.

“This was an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behavior of public authorities,” Lord Philip Brodie of Scotland’s Court of Session said during the groundbreaking ruling.

Johnson has vehemently disputed the idea that he misled Buckingham Palace when asking for prorogation and said he shuttered Parliament for five weeks as a routine way to prepare a new legislative agenda when it reconvened.

The prime minister appealed the Court of Session ruling to the U.K. Supreme Court, saying his political decision is beyond the reach of the judiciary. Two other courts in England and Wales sided with Johnson, finding the issue not one for the courts to decide.

The high court’s 11-justice panel heard arguments for three days last week.

The ruling delved mainly into issues of parliamentary privilege and the extent of the government’s powers. In both instances, the court ruled in favor of Cherry and against Johnson, finding that this prorogation was different from a normal recess and that Johnson overstepped his bounds.

However, the Supreme Court did not address Johnson’s motives. “It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason — let alone a good reason — to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks,” the judgment states.

“We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been.”

The high court said what happens next is up to Parliament.

“Unless there is some Parliamentary rule to the contrary of which we are unaware, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible to decide upon a way forward,” the judgment states. “That would, of course, be a proceeding in Parliament which could not be called in question in this or any other court.”

The day before the judgment, Johnson told reporters he might suspend Parliament a second time if the ruling went against him.

“I am saying that parliament will have bags of time to scrutinize the deal that I hope we’ll be able to do,” Johnson said, according to The Guardian.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also hinted the government could again suspend Parliament if the ruling did not go its way. “Let’s wait and see what the first judgment decides,” Raab told The Independent.

Johnson has faced a number of hurdles since taking office at 10 Downing St., including members of his own Tory party defecting to the Liberal Democrats. As former Tory Phillip Lee said: “I haven’t left my party, my party has left me.”

Parliament is scheduled to resume on Oct. 14 for the Queen’s Speech. The United Kingdom will leave the EU on Oct. 31 if nothing changes.

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