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UK Supreme Court ruling on legality of Boris Johnson suspending parliament due today

The Prime Minister has insisted that proroguing parliament was a routine thing to do.

Boris Johnson in New York yesterday
Boris Johnson in New York yesterday
Image: Craig Ruttle/PA Images

THE UK SUPREME Court will today rule on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in suspending parliament, in a major test for his premiership with the Brexit deadline of 31 October still looming. 

If the verdict goes against Johnson, it could see parliament rapidly reassemble and would inevitably trigger questions about his position, having unlawfully advised Queen Elizabeth II to suspend parliament.

It would be the latest hammer blow to his plans for taking Britain out of the European Union next month, and pile huge pressure on his minority government.

Speaking in New York last night, however, he said the reasons for proroguing parliament and wanting a Queen’s Speech – an event where the monarch formally outlines the priorities of the government – were “very good indeed”. 

He insisted that when parliament returns in the middle of next month, it will have “bags of time to scrutinise the deal that I hope we’ll be able to do [with the EU]“. 

Today’s decision in London will follow two prior court decisions. The highest civil court in Scotland previously ruled that suspending parliament was unlawful while the English High Court said it was not a matter for judges. 

The Supreme Court must therefore decide whether it even has the power to rule on such a case, before coming to any decision on the legality of the move.

David Pannick, representing campaigners appealing against the High Court ruling, argued that judges had the right to decide the proper scope of the prime minister’s power to advise the head of state on shuttering parliament.

“This five-week prorogation has prevented parliament from carrying out its scrutiny functions over the executive over a period of exceptional length… for no rational reason,” he said.

But Advocate General Richard Keen, the British government’s top Scottish legal advisor, said it would see the courts straying into an “ill-defined minefield”.

“This is forbidden territory. It is a matter between the executive and parliament.”

What could happen?

The 11 judges each express their own view, and have broadly five options.

They could decide it is not a matter for the courts, or decide it is within their scope but that Johnson acted lawfully.

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They could rule that he acted unlawfully, but that the period of prorogation was not in itself unreasonable, meaning Johnson could decide to prorogue again in a lawful manner.

If they find he acted unlawfully and that he suspended parliament for an unreasonably long time, he will be obliged to recall parliament. 

The court could also decide that because the prorogation was not lawful, it never really happened, meaning parliament remains in session. 

The Supreme Court will begin delivering its judgement at 10.30am this morning, ahead of a meeting due to take place later between Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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