Tuesday 22 October 2019

Johnson could recall parliament if its suspension is ruled unlawful by court

Battle: Remain activist Gina Miller at the Supreme Court where judges are considering legal challenges to Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
Battle: Remain activist Gina Miller at the Supreme Court where judges are considering legal challenges to Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Michael Holden

Boris Johnson could recall parliament if Britain's highest court rules he unlawfully suspended it, a government lawyer said yesterday, after judges heard the prime minister wanted a shutdown because it was an obstacle to his Brexit plans.

Mr Johnson announced on August 28 that he had asked Queen Elizabeth to prorogue, or suspend, parliament for five weeks from last week until October 14. He said the shutdown was necessary to allow him to introduce a new legislative agenda.

Opponents said the real reason was to prevent scrutiny and challenges by parliament - where he now has no majority - to his Brexit policy, especially his promise to leave the European Union by October 31 even if no divorce deal has been agreed.

They want the Supreme Court, the UK's highest judicial body, to rule Mr Johnson's actions were illegal. Critics, including rebels thrown out of his Conservative Party over Brexit, say he should resign if that is its decision.

"The consequence (of his advice to the monarch being ruled unlawful) could be that he goes to the queen and seeks the recall of parliament," Richard Keen, the government's chief law officer in Scotland, told the court. Mr Keen was unable to rule out that Mr Johnson might then look to suspend parliament again.

All 11 judges on the Supreme Court will now decide on a crucial question: how far Britain's unwritten constitution limits the power of the prime minister and whether Mr Johnson's advice to the queen was therefore illegal.

Illustrating the deep social divisions wrought by the EU issue, angry groups of rival Brexit and pro-European supporters shouted abuse at each other outside court.

Launching the legal challenge to Mr Johnson's decision - by a mixture of anti-Brexit campaigners and opposition lawmakers - David Pannick said there was strong evidence the prime minister wanted to silence parliament because he saw it as an obstacle.

No premier had abused the prorogation power in this way for at least 50 years, Mr Pannick told the court. "He ... wished to avoid what he saw as the risk that parliament would take action to frustrate or damage the policies of his government," he said.

The hearing will run until tomorrow, with the verdict not expected until Friday at the earliest.

Irish Independent

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