'Boris Johnson, get right back to business'

Updated: Sep 25, 2019, 09:57 IST | Agencies

Britain's Supreme Court on Tuesday rules that the Prime Minister's decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful

A protester wearing a mask resembling British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a 'guilty' sign sits on a wall outside the Supreme Court in central London. Pic/AFP
A protester wearing a mask resembling British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a 'guilty' sign sits on a wall outside the Supreme Court in central London. Pic/AFP

London: In a major setback for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in a historic verdict that his decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit was "unlawful". Johnson suspended, or prorogued, Parliament for five weeks earlier this month, saying it was to allow for a Queen's Speech to outline policies of his new government. Opposition MPs and many members of his own Conservative Party had accused him of trying to escape parliamentary scrutiny during a crunch phase ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.

In court
Handing down the verdict on Tuesday, President Lady Brenda Hale said, "The effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme." "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," she said. She added the unanimous decision of the 11 justices meant that Parliament had not been prorogued — the decision was null and of no effect — and it was for the Speakers of the Commons and Lords to decide what to do next. The legal question the SC judges had to resolve was whether the PM's decision "exploiting residual, royal prerogative powers" was "justiciable" and could consequently be subjected to scrutiny by the courts.

'Forbidden territory'
UK government lawyers had told the Supreme Court, a building directly opposite to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in London, that the justices should not enter into such a politically sensitive area, which was legally "forbidden territory" and constitutionally "an ill-defined minefield that the courts are not properly equipped to deal with".

Gina Miller
Gina Miller

Miller's legal win

Indian-origin anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller had challenged Johnson's decision in the UK HC, which had referred it to the SC. Miller had made history a few years ago by forcing Johnson's predecessor Theresa May to seek Parliament's approval before invoking Article 50. In reference to her latest legal win, she said, "Today is not a win for any individual or cause. It is a win for Parliamentary sovereignty, the separation of powers and independence of our British courts."

Boris Johnson

Will respect SC ruling: Johnson

The ruling marks a major setback for Johnson, who is currently in the US for the United Nations General Assembly session. He had insisted that courts should not intervene in such political matters. Downing Street said it was "currently processing the verdict". Johnson on Tuesday said he disagreed with but would respect the SC ruling, which found his decision to suspend parliament unlawful. "I have to say that I strongly disagree with what the justices have found. I don't think that it's right but we will go ahead and of course parliament will come back," he told British broadcasters during a visit to New York.

What's going to happen now?

A new deal: UK PM Boris Johnson is trying to negotiate a new deal with the European Union. If that happens and MPs back it before October 31 there would be no need for an extension.

No-deal Brexit: Most likely the UK will leave the EU on October 31. Even if the prime minister requests an extension there is no guarantee that the other EU countries would agree.

Early election: An early election can happen after October 31 when Brexit is scheduled. There could still be a Queen's speech on October 14 in spite of the SC ruling. After that, the government might ask the House of Commons to back an early general election. That requires a 2/3 majority in the House of Commons and so far MPs have been unprepared to agree.

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