When newly minted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament over the summer there was plenty of grumbling. Some accused him of lying to the Queen about his reasons for doing so. (Did you know it’s illegal to lie to the Queen in England?) Others complained that the reason was simple. He wanted to take the country out of the EU even if no deal was struck and he didn’t want Parliament hanging around to muck up with works with more laws intended to tie his hands.
Then the courts got involved. First, the Scottish Supreme Court declared that he did, in fact, lie to the Queen. But that didn’t seem to have much legal impact. Now, however, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has declared that the suspension of Parliament was illegal. Things are getting messy across the pond. (NY Post)
Britain’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit was “unlawful” — sparking immediate calls for his resignation.
The Supreme Court’s 11 judges agreed unanimously in a severe blow to New York-born Johnson, who became prime minister just two months ago.
He had prorogued — the formal term for the suspension — Parliament for five weeks, telling Queen Elizabeth II that it was a routine closure despite it coming so close to his key Brexit deadline on Oct. 31.
Senior judge Brenda Hale said the suspension “was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
The upshot of this is that Parliament is technically still in session and the MPs are scrambling to call everyone back immediately. They will have any number of options available to them if that happens, and it seems certain that they’ll gavel back into session today or tomorrow.
Of course, there’s still the uncomfortable fact that they already passed a law delaying Brexit for three months if an agreeable deal with the EU wasn’t reached. But we’re in uncharted territory here in terms of who has the final say and some observers have already predicted that Johnson can just say damn the torpedos and sign off on a no-deal Brexit resolution with the EU anyway.
There are already multiple calls from the opposition for Johnson to resign in the wake of this court ruling. That sounds unlikely in the extreme since Johnson is currently in New York for the UN summit and his only comment thus far is to say that Parliament should “give him a break.” But the Speaker in the House of Commons, John Bercow, is summoning everyone back to work anyway. (If you ever watch any footage of Parliament on cable news, Bercow is the guy who is constantly shouting “order” in a long, drawn-out bellow.)
But what can Parliament actually do? Unlike the United States, there’s technically no formal power for them to remove a sitting Prime Minister if he resists calls for his resignation, even if he loses an election and no longer holds a majority. That power rests with the Queen, but it would be unprecedented in the modern era for her to step in and forcibly boot BoJo from 10 Downing Street. In the past, the country has always relied on Prime Ministers to “do the right thing” and voluntarily step down if things went astray. (You can read a good primer on how that process works here.)
The other option is to hold snap elections, which Johnson has been hoping for since he took office. But Labour isn’t interested in that at the moment.
So where does the UK go now? There are only five weeks left before the no-deal Brexit deadline that BoJo has promised. Odds of Johnson getting the EU to agree to a new deal that Parliament wold accept are essentially nil. This is turning into a right royal mess if you’ll pardon the phrase. But Parliament will no doubt be in session by the time he’s done at the UN, so we can look forward to more drama by the end of the week.