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UK Supreme Court ruling: What happens next?

September 24, 2019

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful. So what are the next steps for Parliament, Brexit and the prime minister?

Protesters in front of the UK Supreme Court
Image: Reuters/H. Nicholls

The UK Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful because, as Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said, "it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification."

So what happens next?

Read more: Proroguing Parliament: What does it mean?

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

Parliament will return to session on Wednesday

Technically, this ruling means that the UK Parliament was never prorogued in the first place and remains in session.

In practice, it means that, after being suspended on September 10 for five weeks, the UK Parliament will now return to session after a mere 15 days.

John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, said after the ruling that he had "instructed the House authorities to undertake such steps as are necessary to ensure that the House of Commons sits tomorrow and that it does so at 11:30 a.m." However, a Prime Minister's Questions session will be skipped as Boris Johnson will still be in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The weekly debate regularly takes place on a Wednesday and offers parliamentarians a chance to scrutinize the prime minster.

"However, for the avoidance of doubt there will be full scope for urgent questions, for ministerial statements and for applications for emergency debates," Bercow clarified.

Read more: Does Johnson's track record explain the man?

Johnson may resign

Immediately following the court's decision, calls came from all major opposition parties for the prime minister to resign. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the Labour party conference in Brighton, said, "I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position, and become the shortest serving prime minister there has ever been."

Johnson is not required by the ruling to resign, especially as Hale's summation fell short of claiming that the prime minister had acted improperly in the advice he gave to the queen. But he is now skating on thin constitutional ice.

If Johnson is forced to resign, it would trigger the second Conservative party leadership race of the year and may delay Brexit or lead to a potential early general election.

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

Early general election still possible

Shortly before the prorogation, the UK Parliament twice voted against Johnson's attempt to call an early election. Under UK law, a prime minister needs the approval of two-thirds of the Parliament in order to call an early election. The opposition parties voted against an election, believing it was Johnson's way of pushing through a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson no longer commands a majority in the House of Commons following the deselection of 21 rebel Conservative parliamentarians who defied the government to vote against a no-deal Brexit. Many of these MPs have since joined opposition parties. His minority government means it will be extremely difficult for Johnson to get any legislation through. 

Now that Parliament will reconvene early and given his minority, Johnson may try once again to get Parliament's approval for an early election. Whether opposition parties support him or not depends largely on the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. 

Read more: Will Brexit be worse for women?

Brexit may be delayed

As things stand, the United Kingdom is still set to exit the European Union on October 31, with or without a deal. Despite the short time frame that the prorogation allowed them, lawmakers in the House of Commons managed to squeeze through a law that would require Johnson to ask for another extension to Brexit if he fails to agree a deal at the EU summit on October 19.

But with parliamentary scrutiny returning earlier than expected, it's very likely that opponents of no-deal will do their best to make sure Johnson follows through on this law. 

Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.