Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Ex-British prime minister John Major says Boris Johnson shut down parliament to avoid scrutiny

Former British prime minister tells court that Boris Johnson’s own government did not believe his reasons for suspending parliament

Former British Prime Minister John Major. AFP
Former British Prime Minister John Major. AFP

The scale of the enmity prompted by Brexit was put into sharp relief on Thursday as premier Boris Johnson’s honesty was questioned in the UK’s highest court by one of his predecessors as British prime minister.

John Major, a party colleague and leader from 1990 to 1997, claimed that Mr Johnson shut down parliament for five weeks to avoid scrutiny before a crucial meeting next month that will decide if the UK quits the European Union on October 31.

Mr Major is part of a group arguing that the parliamentary shutdown is unlawful and Mr Johnson misled the monarch, Queen Elizabeth, when he sought permission for the move.

The government, led by Mr Johnson, claims that parliament was shut down to prepare for a new legislative programme. But critics say it was a cynical move to shut down opposition to his plans for Britain leave on whatever terms by October 31.

The case has further highlighted divisions in the ruling Conservative Party and dragged the monarch into the political rumpus over Brexit.

Another former Conservative Party prime minister, David Cameron, was separately accused of breaching royal protocol on Thursday by revealing his conversations with royal officials. He told a television documentary that he had asked the Queen to intervene when it appeared as if Scotland might back plans to split with the rest of the United Kingdom in 2014.

Shortly after the Queen urged Scots voters to “think very carefully” about their future, voters backed staying in the UK by 55 per cent by 45 per cent. The comments were seen as a rare public intervention on political matters by the monarch.

The fight between the two Conservative party leaders over Brexit was played out in the Supreme Court in London.

The case is the conclusion of a legal process that followed an initial defeat for Mr Major in a lower court but a reversal for the government over a similar case in Scotland. Neither Mr Major or Mr Johnson appeared in person.

Mr Major, through his lawyer, argued that the courts should be allowed to intervene if a prime minister was acting on political grounds, rather than in the national interest.

Edward Garnier, representing former British prime minister Sir John Major, speaks during a hearing on the suspension of the British parliament. CROWN COPYRIGHT
Edward Garnier, representing former British prime minister Sir John Major, speaks during a hearing on the suspension of the British parliament. CROWN COPYRIGHT

He said that even his own government did not believe his reasons for suspending parliament. He cited defence secretary Ben Wallace who told his French counterpart the move was aimed at preventing MPs from blocking his Brexit plans.

“The effect of the prorogation is that parliament’s work in relation to scrutiny has ceased,” said Mr Major, according to his court documents. He said it would be naïve for the court to accept Mr Johnson’s stated reasons for suspending parliament.

Mr Johnson, who like Mr Major did not appear in person, has previously denied misleading Queen Elizabeth.

Defeat for Mr Johnson could see MPs recalled to parliament before the scheduled date of October 14 and potentially further frustrate Mr Johnson’s departure plans. He was elected in July on a promise to leave the European Union ‘do or die’ by October 31.

Updated: September 19, 2019 03:56 PM

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