LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has absorbed a series of stiff jabs during his two months as leader, but on Tuesday he was rocked by a body blow.
In what many have described as one of the most momentous days in British legal history, the Supreme Court ruled that Johnson’s recent move to suspend Parliament was unlawful.
Several of his opponents immediately piled on and demanded his resignation, and Johnson himself said that European Union withdrawal plans have been complicated by the ruling.
Earlier in the month, Johnson had requested that the queen end the parliamentary session, a move known as prorogation, for five weeks starting on Sept 9.
The prime minister said this was standard practice after a lengthy session, but critics claimed the decision was taken to prevent MPs from obstructing Johnson’s plans to take the UK out of the EU on Oct 31.
The Supreme Court became involved following challenges brought from two courts, including Edinburgh’s Court of Session, which had ruled that the prorogation was unlawful. All 11 judges at the Supreme Court concurred.
“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 Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks,” said Justice Lady Brenda Hale, who is president of the Supreme Court. “We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.”
Johnson reacted to the news from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly. It’s understood that he rearranged his schedule so as to arrive in London before Parliament resumes at 11:30 am on Wednesday.
“Obviously, this is a verdict that we will respect,” he told reporters. “I don’t think it is right but we will go ahead and of course Parliament will come back.”
Johnson said that those who brought the claim were trying to “frustrate Brexit”.
“There are a lot of people who basically want to stop this country from coming out of the EU,” Johnson said. “As the law currently
stands, the UK leaves the EU on Oct 31 come what may.”
A reporter questioned Johnson on the latter point, given that Parliament recently passed an act that would prevent the UK from leaving the EU in late October if there is no deal in place.
“The exciting thing for us now is to get a good deal, and that’s what we are working on,” Johnson said. “It’s not made much easier by this kind of stuff in Parliament or in the courts.”
Johnson said he wants the queen’s speech to go ahead, which would require a fresh prorogation. Given the result of the ruling, a second prorogation would likely last days, instead of weeks.
The judgement is the latest in a series of defeats suffered by the prime minister. Johnson lost six votes in six days of Brexit dealings, during which time he expelled 21 rebel MPs from the Conservative Party, relinquishing the government’s majority.
The news of the judgment had Labour Party members buzzing in Brighton, where the party is holding its annual conference this week.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson should resign and demanded that he “obey the law, take no-deal off the table, and have an election”.
How things unfold in Parliament from here is, as ever, further complicated by Brexit. If he believes he has enough support, Corbyn may choose to table a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, or there could be another vote to trigger a general election. But some members will be wary of supporting such time-consuming measures without an extension of the Brexit deadline.
Boris Johnson was flying home on Wednesday as determined as ever to push through Britain’s departure from the European Union but facing reinvigorated opposition to his plans after the Supreme Court ruled he had unlawfully suspended parliament.
It is unclear exactly what will happen next in the tortuous Brexit process following the court’s momentous decision, although Johnson can expect a tongue-lashing when parliament sits again on Wednesday morning.
Johnson has rejected calls from some political opponents to resign but opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday now was not the time for parliament to try and bring him down.
“Quite simply, our first priority is to prevent a no-deal exit from the EU on the 31st of October,” Corbyn said in an interview on BBC Radio 4.
Johnson has insisted he will lead Britain out of the EU on that date with or without an exit agreement, but most members of parliament are equally determined to prevent a so-called “no-deal Brexit” scenario.
The House of Commons, where Johnson has no majority, reconvened 11:30 am Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that his decision to suspend it for five weeks was unlawful and therefore null and void.
Before the suspension, parliament had passed a law requiring Johnson to ask the EU to push back the deadline if no exit deal was agreed by October 19. Corbyn said he and other opposition legislators would focus on ensuring that Johnson abided by that law.
Asked by reporters in New York on Tuesday how he planned to overcome that legal obstacle, Johnson simply ignored the question and insisted Brexit would take place on October 31 come what may.
Johnson has repeatedly said his preferred Brexit outcome would be to agree an exit deal with the EU’s 27 other members before the deadline and that he was hopeful he would achieve that.
However, EU negotiators say he has made no new proposals capable of breaking the deadlock over the issue of how to manage the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, after Brexit.
Against that backdrop, reactions to the Supreme Court’s blistering ruling among British politicians showed that divisions were deeper than ever.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons and one of the most ardent advocates of Brexit, was reported by British newspapers to have said during a conference call with Johnson and other cabinet members on Tuesday that the Supreme Court had carried out a “constitutional coup.”
Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove was more moderate in public on Wednesday morning, telling several media that the government would respect the court ruling even though it “respectfully disagreed” with some of the justices’ reasoning.
— (The Daily Mail-China Daily News Exchange item)