Prorogation of Parliament declared unlawful

Deadlock: As Parliament resumes business, it is unclear what comes next. Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Hallum Cowell

The Supreme Court has ruled has that Boris Johnson’s Prorogation of Parliament was unlawful.

The decision follows the same ruling from the Scottish appeal court a few weeks ago. The Government has accepted the conclusion although states that it “profoundly disagrees” with the ruling. Consequently, Parliament reconvened on Wednesday to continue parliamentary business.

All major opposition parties have called for Johnson to resign in light of the ruling and are considering the methods which could force out the Prime Minister if he refuses to resign.

The Prime Minister claims that he wants to deliver “an exciting and dynamic domestic agenda” and that a Queen’s Speech was necessary to deliver it. Critics argue that the decision to suspend parliament was an effort to prevent Parliament’s plans to pass legislation relating to Brexit, chiefly that of ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

Lady Hale, one of the chief judges, commented that the result was “not about when and on what terms” the UK leaves the EU but about the decision to suspend parliament and added that “the effect on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme.” The judges argued that “The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”

A source from number 10 argued however that the Court “made a serious mistake in extending its reach to these political mattersand had “made it clear that its reasons [were] connected to the Parliamentary disputes over, and timetable for Brexit.”

John Bercow, current speaker of the House of Commons, said that “in light of the explicit judgment” he had “instructed the House of Commons authorities to prepare… for the resumption of business.” Additionally, despite Prime Minister’s Questions not being held on Wednesday, Bercow assured MPs that there would be sufficient time for questions, ministerial statement and emergency debates during which Johnson would be at the despatch box.

Commentator Ash Sarkar, tweeted that “The Prime Minister broke the law. If he wasn’t an Eton posh boy, he’d be facing the same consequences as you or me.” Many others have called for the Prime Minister to face legal consequences for his actions; however, Raphael Hogarth from the Institute for Government said that “This was not a criminal offence but a breach of ‘public law – the law which regulated what government can and can’t do.”

The difference in this situation appears to be that, as Professor Michael Gordon of the University of Liverpool explains that the “courts are assessing whether a public authority acted in accordance with the law, rather than whether an individual committed a criminal offence in their private capacity.”

Laura Kuenssberg commented on the ruling stating “this judgement is just about as bad for the government as it gets. Mr Johnson is, as is abundantly clear, prepared to run a general election campaign that pits Parliament against the people. And so, what, according to that view of the world, if that includes the judges as part of the establishment standing in his way?”

As Parliament resumes its business, it is still unclear whether any of the opposition parties will table a vote of no confidence in the Government.  It is also unlikely that they would back a motion by the Conservative leadership to hold a general election.  Boris Johnson could well attempt to prorogue parliament for a second time before holding a Queen’s Speech, although this is increasingly difficult and contentious considering the recent ruling.  And, unless he negotiates a Brexit deal by October 19, by law he must request an extension to Article 50.

If one thing is for certain, Parliament is now entering an absolute deadlock, and unless a deal is negotiated and approved soon, it appears as if the Brexit deadline will be pushed back, and Boris may have to fight an election campaign as yet another leader who has not been able to deliver Brexit.