LONDON (AFP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament just weeks before Britain’s EU departure date faced legal challenges on Thursday amid a furious outcry from pro-Europeans and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson announced the surprise decision Wednesday to dismiss parliament — known as proroguing — next month for nearly five weeks, claiming his new government needed to start afresh in order to pursue a “bold and ambitious” post-Brexit domestic agenda.
But the move ahead of the October 31 Brexit date sent shockwaves through British politics.
Johnson’s opponents labeled the suspension of parliament a “coup” and a “constitutional outrage.”
The prime minister insists Britain must leave the European Union on time, with or without a divorce deal — and the move limits his opponents’ room for maneuver.
It prompted immediate court bids in London, Edinburgh and Belfast to halt the process.
A ruling is expected in the Edinburgh case on Friday.
Mass protests were planned for Saturday, while politicians scrambled for ways to counter Johnson.
Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is mulling a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s Conservative government, which commands a majority of just one seat.
Corbyn said when MPs return from their summer break on Tuesday, he would try to start a parliamentary process “to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit and also to try and prevent (Johnson) shutting down parliament during this utterly crucial period.”
“We believe we can do it, otherwise we wouldn’t be trying.”
Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, has applied for an urgent judicial review in London challenging “the effect and the intention” of the suspension.
“We think that this request is illegal,” said Miller who in 2017 successfully won MPs the right to vote on formally starting to leave the EU in a court challenge.
In Scotland’s highest civil court, 75 parliamentarians are seeking an interim interdict that would stop Johnson suspending parliament pending a final decision on the case.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was caught on an open microphone at a Helsinki summit saying parliament was unable to agree on what it wanted.
“So eventually any leader has to try. I don’t know what the outcome …,” he said, before laughing.
Scottish parliamentarian Joanna Cherry, who is bringing the Edinburgh case, said the comment “backs up what we contend — that prorogation of parliament is for an improper purpose and therefore unlawful.”
Meanwhile, campaigner Raymond McCord launched a legal bid in Belfast to block Johnson’s move, with a hearing set for Friday.
“He’s obviously trying to circumvent parliament and we say in the context of Northern Ireland that is unconstitutional,” McCord’s lawyer Ciaran O’Hare told AFP.
An online petition seeking to block the decision unless Brexit is delayed or canceled had garnered around 1.5 million signatures on Thursday.
Thousands of people protested Wednesday in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and other cities.
At the biggest rally, crowds gathered near parliament in London chanting “stop the coup” and waving EU flags.
General protests are planned outside parliament and around Britain on Saturday.
The main opposition Labour Party’s leftist faction Momentum urged members to “occupy bridges and blockade roads.”
Meanwhile, leftists will rally outside parliament on Tuesday demanding an immediate general election.
However, arch-Brexiteer minister Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the parliamentary suspension and insisted MPs would still have time to debate Brexit ahead of October 31.
“The candyfloss of outrage, which is almost entirely confected, is from people who never wanted to leave the European Union,” he told BBC radio.
After its longest session in nearly 400 years, parliament will close in mid-September and reopen on October 14 — just over two weeks before Brexit.
The House of Commons typically goes into recess around the annual party conference season, which kicks off on September 14 and ends on October 2, but critics slammed this lengthier break.
In a blow for Johnson, popular Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stepped down after eight years during which she has revived her party’s fortunes.
The pound was stable on Thursday after sliding on news of the suspension.
An EU summit on October 17-18 will likely determine whether a withdrawal agreement can be struck.
Without one, Britain will end its four decades of membership without a deal governing key issues such as future trade relations and citizens’ rights.
© Agence France-Presse
by Joe JACKSON