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Gina Miller outside the UK Supreme Court this morning.
Gina Miller outside the UK Supreme Court this morning.
Image: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

UK Supreme Court rules that Boris Johnson's prorogation is 'unlawful, void and had no effect'

The decision is a major defeat for Boris Johnson’s government.
Sep 24th 2019, 10:42 AM 68,291 129

THE BRITISH SUPREME Court has unanimously ruled that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in shutting down parliament for five weeks.

Following three days of intense legal arguments last week in the UK’s highest court, judges ruled that Johnson’s advice to Queen Elizabeth II to suspend parliament for five weeks until 14 October was illegal.

The ruling is the worst outcome that the government could have hoped for. The decision has already prompted calls for Johnson to resign and raised speculation that MPs could be set for an imminent return to the House of Commons. 

Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, announced that the prorogation order was void and should be quashed – meaning that in law parliament has not been prorogued. 

It also means that the Supreme Court implied that Johnson, who is currently in New York, misled the queen in his reasons for prorogation. 

Parliamentary sovereignty, the judgement states, “would be undermined if the executive could, through the use of the prerogative, prevent Parliament from exercising its power to make laws for as long as it pleased”. 

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, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. 

“I am delighted today that the Supreme Court had protected the foundational principle of any democracy,” Jolyon Maugham, the Good Law Project campaigner who was one of the people who brought the case, said outside the Supreme Court today. 

“This prime minister must open the doors of Parliament tomorrow. MPs must get back and be brave and bold in holding this unscrupulous government to account,” Gina Miller, one of those who brought the legal challenge against the government, said. 

“This was an absolutely momentous decision,” Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry, who brought the case in Scotland, said. 

Calling for Johnson to resign, she said that “his position is untenable”.

“This is a huge victory for the rule of law and democracy and in keeping with the Scottish constitutions position that neither the government or the monarch are above the law,” she said.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the ruling demonstrates Johnson’s “contempt for democracy and an abuse of power”.

He said that the prime minister should “consider his position”. 

Corbyn, who has faced a difficult week over fractious Brexit debates within his own party, said that he will now be contacting the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow to demand that parliament is recalled.

In a statement immediately following the decision, Bercow said: “As the embodiment of our parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay. To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency.”

brexit SNP MP Joanna Cherry and lawyer Jolyon Maugham speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court in London Source: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

Johnson and his Cabinet had argued that suspending parliament was a routine and long-overdue move to launch a fresh new programme for parliament – as it wipes the legislative agenda clean.

But it sparked legal action accusing him of trying to silence MPs, who oppose a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, and voted through legislation compelling Johnson to request a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline if a deal has not been reached by 19 October.

Three legal actions were taken in Edinburgh, London and Belfast upon Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament. Scotland’s highest civil court found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges to intervene in. Belfast’s high court ruled that the matters before it “belongs to the world of politics“.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has also joined calls for Johnson to resign. “Full scrutiny of this government and it’s plans for a hard Brexit must now be restored and challenged immediately. Johnson must be removed from office and Brexit called to a halt,” he said in a statement. 

The immediate impact of the decision on Brexit remains unclear. The Benn bill, passed into law before prorogation, was designed to extend Article 50 and prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. It would push the current Brexit deadline of 31 October to 31 January. 

The next steps for Johnson and his government now remain unclear. Johnson has rejected asking for an extension from the EU – despite that requirement being now in UK law – and did not rule out proroguing parliament again ahead of the Supreme Court decision. 

Whatever happens, Johnson will face significant opposition – both outside and inside parliament – when he returns to the UK from New York. 

With additional reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Dominic McGrath

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