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UK Supreme Court: Parliament prorogation unlawful

September 24, 2019

Britain's highest court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, said Parliament must "reconvene without delay."

A protester with a Boris Johnson mask poses outside the Supreme Court building
Image: Reuters/H. Nicholls

The UK Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful. The ruling was unanimous, and no further appeal by the government is possible.

"This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen's Speech," said Brenda Hale, the president of the Supreme Court.

"The court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful."

The ruling means "the prorogation was void and of no effect." Parliament can therefore reconvene "as soon as possible," Hale concluded. 

Read more: UK Supreme Court ruling — What happens next?

Britain's Supreme Court rules unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament was unlawful

Responding to the decision from the UN General Assembly in New York, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would abide by the court ruling, though said he "strongly" disagreed with the Supreme Court.

"I don't think that it's right, but we will go ahead and of course Parliament will come back," he said. "I think the most important thing is to get on with it and deliver Brexit on October 31."

The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said he welcomed the ruling and that Parliament must "reconvene without delay" and continue its operations on Wednesday morning.

Sturgeon: Parliament should force Johnson out

The prime minister's political rivals immediately called on Johnson to leave his post. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader and head of the opposition, said the illegal suspension of Parliament showed Johnson's "contempt" for democracy and the rule of law.

Speaking at a party conference in Brighton, he said, "I invite Boris Johnson, in those historic words, to 'consider his position.'"

Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the ruling confirmed "what we already knew — Boris Johnson isn't fit to be prime minister."

"He's misled queen and country and unlawfully silenced the people's representatives," Swinson said, adding that she was on her way to Parliament to "stop Brexit altogether."

Anti-Brexit activist Gina Miller on the UK Supreme Court's ruling on the suspension of Parliament

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Tuesday's decision was "the most significant and historical ruling" in living memory.

"If the prime minister isn't prepared to do the decent and honorable thing in tendering his resignation, then I think Parliament should quickly come together to force this prime minister from office."

Scottish National Party lawmaker Joanna Cherry agreed. "His position is untenable, and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign," she said. Cherry is one of the lawyers who brought the initial case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Rule of law 'alive & kicking'

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party and a founding member of UKIP, took shots at Johnson's trusted adviser, Dominic Cummings, who allegedly spearheaded the idea of suspending Parliament.

"The calling of a Queen's Speech and prorogation is the worst political decision ever," Farage said on Twitter. "Dominic Cummings must go."

The European Parliament's Brexit Coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said on Twitter that the ruling showed "the rule of law in the UK is alive & kicking."

"Parliaments should never be silenced in a real democracy," he wrote. "I never want to hear Boris Johnson or any other Brexiteer say again that the European Union is undemocratic."

No 'good reason' to prorogue Parliament

Protesters outside the Supreme Court in London welcomed the court's decision. After the ruling, several lawmakers were seen arriving at the Parliament building. 

The UK Parliament was officially suspended by Queen Elizabeth, who is politically neutral. The monarch acts on the advice of her prime minister. Normally, the process is a formality to end one parliamentary session and start a new one.

However, Johnson's critics claim his advice to the monarch was aimed at silencing MPs while the prime minister was dealing with the EU on Brexit. The government has denied that the move was linked to the divorce procedure. Instead, they said they were attempting to clear the way for a new work program in Parliament.

Read more: Risk of no-deal Brexit 'very real' says EU Commission head Juncker

"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 judges said.

Several lawmakers, including Johnson's opponents thrown out of the Tory party, previously stated he should resign if it turned out that he had misled the queen.

The unanimous verdict and the blunt wording by the 11 judges on Tuesday mark a harsh rebuke to Johnson, who succeeded Theresa May less than two months ago after she failed to push a divorce deal through Parliament. Johnson has pledged to leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal. 

dj, ed/ng (Reuters, AFP)

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