The U.K. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful, but it stopped short of suggesting the Prime Minister’s motive was to stymie further debate over the government’s Brexit plans.
In an unprecedented move, the U.K’s highest court declared the suspension “void and of no effect,” which means Members of Parliament can technically continue parliamentary business.
The 11 judges said there was “no adequate explanation” why it was necessary for the government to bring parliamentary business to a halt for five weeks before opening a new session of Parliament when the normal period necessary to prepare for the Queen’s Speech (which is when the government sets out its plans for new legislation) is four to six days.
Supreme Court President Lady Hale said that “no justification for taking action with such an extreme effect” had been put before the court and added that “the effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme.”
The Court concluded the decision to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament “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 Prime Minister’s advice to the monarch is now void.
Background to the case
The Supreme Court’s ruling was made after a three-day hearing mid-September which dealt with two appeals: one from anti-Brexit campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, the second from the government.
Miller was appealing against the English High Court’s earlier decision that the prorogation was “purely political” and not a matter for the courts. The government, meanwhile, was appealing against the ruling by Scotland’s Court of Session that the prorogation was “unlawful” and had been used to “stymie” Parliament.
Miller won her appeal; the government lost its.
In its summary, the judges wrote it is for Parliament—and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker—to decide what to do next, and they have the power to take immediate steps to enable both the House of Commons and House of Lords to meet as soon as possible.
And in a wry note—given the government’s suggestions it may only pay “lip service” to any adverse ruling—the Court ended its summary saying it is “pleased that the Prime Minister’s counsel have told the court that he will take all necessary steps to comply” with its judgment.
Commons Speaker John Bercow has welcomed the ruling, saying Parliament will reconvene Sept. 25, which means MPs have more time to scrutinize—and possibly wreck—Johnson’s Brexit plans.
The Prime Minister’s Office says it is “currently processing the verdict.” Opposition party leaders have demanded Johnson’s resignation. They may call for a vote of no confidence, which could in turn trigger a general election.