Tuesday 15 October 2019

Colette Browne: 'The UK Supreme Court doesn't trust Boris Johnson - neither should the Irish Government'

Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters
Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Boris Johnson's Supreme Court drubbing shows exactly why we need the clear legal guarantee of the backstop.

In retrospect, the writing was on the wall early on for Mr Johnson during the three-day hearing to determine whether his decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson sparks fury as he says best way to honour pro-EU assassinated MP Jo Cox is to 'get Brexit done'

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On the first day, Mr Johnson's barrister offered the court "a very clear undertaking" that the prime minister would "respond by all necessary means" and fully abide by the court's decision if it ruled against him. At which point, one of the 11 justices piped up to ask if that undertaking could be given in writing.

It was a telling exchange, and one which reflected extremely badly on the reputation of the prime minister as someone who can be relied upon.

Similar conversations, about the Irish backstop, have been going on between the British and Irish governments for years now. The British have offered vague assurances, and cited unspecified technological solutions, to resolve the impasse. The Irish, wary of buying a pig in a poke, have consistently asked them to define what those solutions are.

Mr Johnson declined to give a written undertaking to the Supreme Court, just as he has refused to outline a single scrap of detail about his mysterious alternative to the backstop.

Clearly, the prime minister is not a man who likes to commit his ambiguous assurances to legally binding guarantees.

The lesson for Mr Johnson, from the Supreme Court and the Brexit negotiations, is that chancers are eventually found out. The tragedy is that it is almost certain he will not learn this lesson.

"It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason - let alone a good reason - to advise [the queen] to prorogue parliament for five weeks… it follows that the decision was unlawful," was the unanimous verdict of 11 Supreme Court justices.

Putting the boot into Mr Johnson, the court found the prime minister had no "reasonable justification for taking action which had such an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy".

Mr Johnson's brief tenure in Number 10 was already a disaster, having lost six parliamentary votes in just one week, a by-election, 23 MPs including his own brother and, with them, his majority. Now he can add acting unlawfully, by trampling on democratic accountability and parliamentary sovereignty, to the list.

Incredibly, given this roll call of ineptitude and ignominy, he has been in office for only 63 days - much of that shielded from parliamentary scrutiny by the summer recess and his unlawful prorogation. Has anyone who started in a new job ever had a more calamitous inauguration?

Flailing around in New York when the judgment was handed down, Mr Johnson first said he had "the utmost respect for our judiciary", but then immediately sought to undermine the court's decision as some kind of Remainer plot.

"Let's be in no doubt, there are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit. There are a lot of people who want to stop this country coming out of the EU," he said, despite having instructed his lawyers last week that the prorogation had nothing to do with Brexit.

Mr Johnson may find it hard to commit in his personal life, but his commitment to the Brexit con he is perpetrating is unwavering and will withstand even yesterday's devastating Supreme Court judgment.

A politician with a shred of honour and decency, faced with such an unprecedented rebuke from the highest court in the land, would immediately resign in disgrace, but Mr Johnson will not.

He will brazen out the backlash because he is shameless and imperious, adopting the Trumpian tactics of presenting legitimate criticism as illegitimate treachery and demonising political opponents as enemies of democracy.

When he entered Downing Street, Mr Johnson had a game plan - to engineer an election before October 31 or, if that failed, to crash out without a deal.

Parliament, although it sat for only a week, has frustrated both of those options with MPs refusing to allow an election to take place until no deal is definitively taken off the table.

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision means he now has nowhere to hide and must return to face the music in Westminster today.

The only way out of the morass for Mr Johnson is to try to actually get a deal which will be supported by a majority of MPs. But, given there are email scammers purporting to be Nigerian princes who have more credibility than Mr Johnson, this seems unlikely.

The prime minister's uncomfortable relationship with the truth also presents a huge problem for both Irish and EU leaders. How on earth can they be expected to take him, or his government, seriously?

Back in June, Mr Johnson said the Irish Border was a problem that was "easily capable of solution". Strangely, that easy solution is still nowhere in sight. Instead, last week, his team submitted a series of "non papers" outlining their ideas on how the backstop could be replaced.

For the uninitiated, a "non paper" is a document setting out discussion points rather than formal policy positions. So, with just over five weeks to go to the October 31 Brexit deadline, the UK is sending the EU its brainstorming efforts on how a hard Border in Ireland can be avoided - none of which are concrete proposals.

Instead of the text of a withdrawal agreement, the EU has been given a series of bullet points with a haughty UK government spokesperson declining to provide "formal written solutions" until the UK is "ready".

Neither Mr Johnson nor his cabinet are serious people. They are charlatans and self-promoters who can only be relied upon to act disreputably. Instead of engaging with the democratic process, Mr Johnson and his team attempted to bulldoze over it.

They have contributed precisely nothing to the Brexit negotiations, except bluster, bombast, prevarication and lies. It is unlikely that anything sensible will be forthcoming from them for the foreseeable future.

The only chink of light for the Irish Government from this mess is that the wretched state of the British government has underlined that its policy, of getting a clear legal guarantee on the Border, was the correct approach all along.

The Supreme Court opted to dictate to Mr Johnson in its judgment the precise effect of its ruling - leaving no room for him to wriggle out of its consequences.

Similarly, the Irish Government must rigidly adhere to the backstop and refuse to succumb to any pressure that may be exerted over the coming weeks to abandon this crucial aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Irish Independent

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