Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

UK's highest court rules suspension of Parliament is unlawful

Boris Johnson said he would 'respect the verdict' but he 'strongly disagreed' with the Supreme Court's ruling

President of the Supreme Court Brenda Hale reading the court's judgement. Supreme Court/ AFP 
President of the Supreme Court Brenda Hale reading the court's judgement. Supreme Court/ AFP 

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks ahead of the Brexit deadline was unlawful, in a major blow to the Prime Minister.

In a landmark decision on Tuesday, Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said Mr Johnson's order to prorogue (suspend) Parliament was “void and of no effect”.

The court rejected the government’s assertion that the suspension order until October 14 was routine and not related to Brexit.

Lady Hale said the prorogation “was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification”.

Mr Johnson said he “strongly disagreed” with the ruling, which was a unanimous decision by 11 Supreme Court justices, but would respect the verdict.

"I think that the prorogation has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge," he told reporters in New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

"There are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit. There are a lot of people who want to stop this country coming out of the EU," he added.

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court and said Parliament would resume its business on Wednesday.

Mr Bercow, who presides over debates in Parliament’s lower chamber, added that MPs return to Parliament was a “resumption” not a "recall" because the Supreme Court ruled the suspension was illegal.

Mr Johnson is due to leave New York earlier than planned to ensure he is back in the UK for Wednesday’s parliamentary session.

However, he did not rule out trying to suspend Parliament a second time, adding that the Supreme Court had not "remotely excluded" the possibility.

The significant defeat in the UK’s highest court has led to louder calls for Mr Johnson, who became prime minister in July, to stand down.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he should "consider his position" and "become the shortest-serving prime minister there has ever been".

Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the ruling meant that Mr Johnson was “not fit to be prime minister”.

The Supreme Court’s verdict followed three days of hearings after the highest courts in England and Scotland gave two contradictory rulings on parliamentary prorogation.

Earlier this month, Scotland's Court of Session found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges.

The Supreme Court’s ruling cannot be appealed.

Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner whose challenge against prorogation in the English court was rejected, hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling saying it proved the prime minister was not above the law.

"This Prime Minister must open the doors of Parliament tomorrow,” she said.

"MPs must get back and be brave and bold in holding this unscrupulous Government to account."

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller speaks to media as she leaves the Supreme Court after the ruling on the prorogation of parliament. EPA
Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller speaks to media as she leaves the Supreme Court after the ruling on the prorogation of parliament. EPA

The fate of the UK’s departure from the European Union remains unclear, despite anti-Brexit campaigners celebrating the Supreme Court decision.

Before prorogation began on September 10, MPs passed a law aiming to stop "no deal", which obliges Mr Johnson to seek a delay to Brexit if he has not agreed a divorce deal by an EU summit on October 17 and 18.

But the prime minister on Tuesday repeated his pledge to take the UK out of the EU “come what may” by October 31.

“As the law currently stands, the UK leaves the EU on October 31 come what may, but the exciting thing for us now is to get a good deal. And that is what we are working on,” Mr Johnson said.

“And to be honest, it is not made much easier by this kind of stuff in Parliament or in the courts.”

However, the EU has consistently accused London of failing to come up with serious alternatives to the deal struck by Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, which was rejected three times by MPs.

And if the government ignores the law passed by Parliament to block no-deal, he will likely face a further challenge in the courts.

The prime minister, who is currently ruling without a parliamentary majority, renewed calls to hold a general election to end the Brexit impasse.

"The obvious thing to do is call an election. Jeremy Corbyn is talking out the back of his neck," he said.

Mr Corbyn has said he wants an early election but has previously rejected motions for a snap poll, fearing a no-deal exit might happen by default while the election campaign takes place.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference, he said an election should take place as soon as the UK crashing out of the EU is no longer a threat.

"This crisis can only be settled with a general election," he said. "That election needs to take place as soon as this government’s threat of a disastrous no deal is taken off the table. That condition is what MPs passed into law before Boris Johnson illegally closed down parliament."

The British pound rose after the Supreme Court decision as chances of a no-deal Brexit were reduced with MPs returning to Parliament. But gains were restricted as uncertainty remained about how the UK would leave the world's largest trade bloc.

Updated: September 26, 2019 04:49 PM

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