Wednesday 16 October 2019

Brexit Q&A: Why is the suspension of parliament illegal, did Boris Johnson lie to the queen and will he resign?


Royal welcome: Queen Elizabeth II greets British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Buckingham Palace. Picture: AFP/Getty
Royal welcome: Queen Elizabeth II greets British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Buckingham Palace. Picture: AFP/Getty
Judgment: Lady Hale, head of the Supreme Court of the UK, announces the ruling. Picture: Reuters
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

What's the latest twist in Brexit?

It might not have seemed possible - but Brexit has gotten even more dramatic. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue (suspend) the House of Commons for five weeks has been found unlawful.

Why is the suspension of parliament illegal?

Britain's highest court ruled that Mr Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was an attempt to stop the government being held to account as the Brexit deadline approaches. In a unanimous ruling, 11 judges declared the order to suspend Parliament "void and of no effect".

Supreme Court president 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".

Judgment: Lady Hale, head of the Supreme Court of the UK, announces the ruling. Picture: Reuters

Does this mean that Boris Johnson lied to the queen?

The Supreme Court did not make such a direct statement but the prime minister's opponents will argue that he misled the queen. This is a very serious charge in British politics. The queen's approval was needed to suspend the legislature. The government told her that it needed the five-week suspension to prepare its legislative plan for a new term. The court said this process usually took four to six days.

Surely Mr Johnson will have to resign then?

Under normal circumstances, this would seem like a resignation matter, but these are not normal times. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reacted by saying: "I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position."

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: "The court has found what we all knew all along - Boris Johnson has again proven he is not fit to be prime minister."

However, Mr Johnson has indicated he has no intention of stepping aside. He made clear his unhappiness with the court's "unusual judgment".

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage called for the prime minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings to be removed from his role following the decision.

"The calling of a queen's speech and prorogation is the worst political decision ever," he tweeted. "Dominic Cummings must go."

How did Mr Johnson's meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar go?

The two leaders at the centre of the 'backstop battle' met on the fringes of a UN summit in New York yesterday. It was all very polite but no real progress towards a Brexit deal was achieved.

Mr Varadkar said the Supreme Court ruling was not raised "in any detail".

"I'd be very much of the view that a decision made by the UK Supreme Court is an internal matter for the UK government and not something that we're going to get involved in," Mr Varadkar said afterwards.

Will the House of Commons be reconvened now?

In theory, the judgment concludes that Parliament was never actually suspended.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, welcomed the ruling.

He said: "As the embodiment of our parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay."

MPs will be back shouting across each other in the chamber at 11.30am today.

Due to the short notice, it will not be possible for there to be a session of prime minister's questions.

What does the EU make of it all?

EU leaders are slow to comment publicly on the domestic battles being fought by Mr Johnson, but there's no doubt they are frustrated by the situation.

Brexit co-ordinator for the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt said: "At least one big relief in the Brexit saga: the rule of law in the UK is alive and kicking. Parliaments should never be silenced in a real democracy.

"I never want to hear Boris Johnson or any other Brexiteer say again that the European Union is undemocratic."

What does it all mean for Brexit?

The bad news is that we are still heading towards a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

Britain has still not provided the EU with workable alternatives to the backstop.

Legally, Mr Johnson is required to seek an extension if a deal hasn't been secured by the time EU leaders come together on October 17 and 18 - but he has already told EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that he will not seek a further delay under any circumstances.

Irish Independent

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