Wednesday 23 October 2019

'Tell us what you plan to do should you lose,' judges ask Johnson

Stock picture
Stock picture

Gordon Rayner

Boris Johnson was yesterday asked to tell the UK Supreme Court what he will do if its judges rule against him over the prorogation of Parliament.

Halfway through the hearing of the case, Lady Hale, the president of the court, asked if Downing Street could set down in writing, by this morning, what the prime minister's course of action would be.

It was not the most encouraging omen for Mr Johnson on a day when the extremities of his powers were repeatedly probed by 11 justices who have the ability to alter the course of British history.

The government's argument was simple: decisions to prorogue Parliament are a matter for prime ministers, and the courts have no right to interfere in pure politics.

Lord Kerr, however, was unconvinced. What if a prime minister decided to prorogue for a year, he asked. What if he or she was open to bribery or corruption?

In testy exchanges, two judges expressed displeasure at the refusal of Mr Johnson or any senior government figure to provide sworn witness statements on the reasons for the decision to prorogue Parliament for five weeks.

The prime minister was accused of "dirty tricks" by a barrister for opposition MPs, who said: "The mother of parliaments has been closed down by the father of lies."

Mr Johnson's government is now preparing for the possibility the Supreme Court could overturn a High Court ruling that prorogation is "purely political", and decide that courts can intervene in extreme circumstances.

But there is hope in Downing Street that the court will not challenge Mr Johnson's decision on this occasion.

If the court does rule against the government, and MPs are recalled to Parliament before the scheduled date of October 14, it could have profound consequences for Brexit.

On the second day of the hearing, it was the turn of James Eadie QC to try to convince the justices they should leave politics alone.

It was, he said, a "non-justiciable" matter - legal jargon for something that cannot be decided by the courts.

But at the end of the morning session, Lady Hale asked Mr Eadie to provide a written statement of what the government would do if it lost.

Another of the justices, Lord Reed, said the issue could be a "very difficult question".

Once Mr Eadie had set out his case on behalf of the government, it was the turn of Aidan O'Neill QC, representing Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP, and 78 other opposition MPs and peers.

He argued that the Supreme Court should uphold the decision of the Court of Session in Edinburgh that proroguing Parliament was "unlawful".

He said: "What we have with prorogation is the mother of parliaments closed down by the father of lies."

The hearing will end today, when a statement against the government will be given by former prime minister John Major through his barrister.

A decision is expected by Monday at the latest.

Irish Independent

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