Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was illegal, handing the Prime Minister a major setback and opening the door to a renewed battle with parliamentarians over Brexit.
In a unanimous decision released Tuesday, the court’s 11 judges ruled that Mr. Johnson’s move to prorogue Parliament from Sept. 9 to Oct. 14 was “unlawful, void and of no effect.
“The court is bound to conclude that the decision to advise her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said in a summary of the decision. Lady Hale added that “no justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court.” As a result of the court’s ruling, Parliament has not been prorogued, she said. She left it up to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to decide when to recall Parliament, which could happen this week.
Mr. Bercow said on Twitter that he welcomed the ruling and added, “The House of Commons must convene without delay.” He said he would immediately consult party leaders about resuming the session as soon as possible.
Mr. Johnson has said the government will respect the ruling but he has hinted that he could try to prorogue Parliament again.
“Strong judgement from the court proves Boris Johnson has no regard for the law. Yet again he has been found out,” Labour MP Keir Starmer said on Twitter after the ruling.
Joanna Cherry, a Scottish Nationalist MP who led the court challenge, went further and called on Mr. Johnson to step down. “Boris Johnson’s position is untenable and he should have the guts to resign,” she said.
The historic ruling puts a firm limit on the government’s power and it sets up another showdown between Mr. Johnson and a rebel alliance of opposition and Conservative MPs. Mr. Johnson has been wrestling with Parliament over his pledge to pull Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, no matter what. A majority of parliamentarians has been trying to prevent a no-deal Brexit and they recently passed a law that requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the deadline if he hasn’t struck a deal by Oct. 19. Mr. Johnson has indicated he will try to find a way around that law.
The Supreme Court had to decide whether Mr. Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament was entirely within his prerogative as Prime Minister or whether he was improperly trying to shut down debate over Brexit. The case came after two lower courts recently came to contradictory decisions. A court in London ruled that according to constitutional convention, the Prime Minister’s decision was political and beyond judicial review. However, a panel of judges in Scotland found that the courts could examine the motivation for prorogation and they ruled that Mr. Johnson misled the public and tried to thwart Parliament. The Supreme Court sided with the Scottish ruling.
The Supreme Court did not address Mr. Johnson’s motives in seeking a suspension, but the judges said there was no explanation for the lengthy prorogation. “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 ruling said.
Mr. Johnson has insisted that the prorogation had nothing to do with Brexit and that it was normal, since Parliament usually shuts down for a couple of weeks in the fall to accommodate annual political conventions. He added that as a new Prime Minister he also wanted to start a fresh session with a throne speech to outline his priorities.
Mr. Johnson is in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He is also expected to meet EU leaders and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Globe and Mail, September 24, 2019
Note: See the Lesson Plan of September 19, 2019 for background on this issue.