Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Britain's Supreme Court to decide if UK PM's suspension of parliament is legal

Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended parliament until October 15 but mounting criticism has led to a court challenge

Protestors gather outside the UK Supreme Court ahead of a hearing on the legality of proroguing Parliament. Getty Images
Protestors gather outside the UK Supreme Court ahead of a hearing on the legality of proroguing Parliament. Getty Images

Britain's Supreme Court opened a landmark case against the government on Tuesday, hearing evidence to decide if Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he suspended Parliament in the run-up to the country’s departure date from the European Union.

Government lawyers told the court Mr Johnson would take action to remedy the situation if it ruled he had acted unlawfully.

"It will be then for the prime minister to address the consequence of that declaration (that the suspension was unlawful)," the government’s lawyer Lord Keen QC told the court.

"The consequence could be that he goes to the queen and seeks the recall of parliament.

"I have given a clear undertaking that the prime minister will respond by all necessary means to any declaration that the original prorogation was affected by any unlawful advice that he might have given."

The court case comes after Mr Johnson announced on August 28 that he had asked Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue, or suspend, parliament for five weeks from last week until October 14, saying the shutdown was necessary to allow him to introduce a new legislative agenda.

But opponents said the real reason was to prevent scrutiny and challenges by parliament to his Brexit plans, especially his promise to leave the European Union by October 31 even if no divorce deal has been agreed.

Despite the Scottish judgement, a week earlier, the High Court of England and Wales rejected a similar case, saying the matter was political and not one for judicial interference.

Both cases are now going before the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the UK, and its 11 judges will give a final ruling on whether Mr Johnson's advice to the queen was illegal.

Critics say that if judges decide Mr Johnson misled the monarch, then he must resign.

That case was led by investment manager Gina Miller, who is one of those taking on the government in the current legal battle along with former Conservative prime minister John Major.

Her lawyer David Pannick told the court Mr Johnson had improperly suspended the legislature "to silence Parliament ... because he sees Parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims."

The government denies misconduct. Its lawyers argued in a written submission that the issue is "intrinsically one of high policy and politics, not law."

Lord Keen QC told the court that the Scottish judges "have simply gone where the court should not go."

"The courts are not to cross the boundaries and intrude upon the proceedings in Parliament," he said.

The court must decide if the case is a matter for the courts; and, if so, did the government break the law.

The Supreme Court hearing will run until Thursday, with the verdict not expected until Friday at the earliest.

On Tuesday, the British leader spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to redouble efforts to secure a deal to leave the European Union.

He reassured her that he would work with “energy and determination” to reach a Brexit agreement and will discuss it at a meeting of the United Nations next week.

"The prime minister reiterated that the UK and the EU have agreed to accelerate efforts to reach a deal without the backstop, which the UK parliament could support, and that we would work with energy and determination to achieve this ahead of Brexit on 31st October," Mr Johnson's spokesman said.

"The leaders look forward to meeting to discuss these issues further at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York."

It comes after he suffered a bruising visit to Luxembourg on Monday where he was booed by protesters and criticised by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

The EU commission, however, said no Brexit talks have been scheduled for the coming days despite Mr Johnson's office insisting that meetings would soon begin on a daily basis.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that "once there are meetings to announce we will do this."

She added: "We remain available 24/7, this hasn't changed. We are available to meet anytime, any day, every day, if the UK wants to meet us."

But she added that "it's now the UK's responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement" in order "to move the discussions forward."

Updated: September 17, 2019 07:35 PM

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