Monday

10th Aug 2020

Johnson flies home from NY early after UK court verdict

  • UK prime minister briefing journalists on the airplane to New York for the United Nations general assembly. Now, he is flying home a day early (Photo: Downing Street)

British prime minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend parliament was "unlawful, void and of no effect", the UK's supreme court has ruled on Tuesday (23 September).

The opposition Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties immediately called for his resignation.

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  • The unanimous 11-strong ruling from the Supreme Court that the suspension of parliament was 'unlawful' came as a bombshell - now, parliament may return as early as this week or next (Photo: UK Parliament - Jess Taylor)

The Speaker of the House of Commons said the parliament "must convene without delay", and will start to consult party leaders "immediately".

Johnson, in New York for the United Nations general assembly, announced he would be flying back to London on Tuesday night, after his speech, rather than on Wednesday, and described himself as "strongly disagree[ing]" with the Supreme Court verdict.

Meanwhile, in Brighton, the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called on Johnson to "consider his position", while bringing forward his own keynote speech 24 hours - in preparation of a possible return of parliament as early as Wednesday.

Johnson had suspended parliament until 14 October, arguing it was to allow a Queen's Speech to outline the government's new policies.

However, the court on Tuesday morning said that it was wrong to stop parliament carrying out its duties in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU on 31 October.

"The effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme," the Supreme Court's president, Lady Hale, said delivering the ruling .

Suspension of 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," Lady Hale added.

She added that there was no justification "why it was necessary to bring parliamentary business to a halt for five weeks before that, when the normal period necessary to prepare for the Queen's speech is four to six days".

It was a unanimous decision of the 11 justices that parliament had not been prorogued and that the Speaker of the House of Commons and Lords should decide what to do next.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said at the Labour party conference, that Johnson should "consider his position" and demanded a recall of parliament.

He said the supreme court judgement demonstrates Johnson's contempt for parliament. The SNP called for his resignation, as did Plaid Cymru, the Welsh party, and the Liberal Democrats. Jo Swinson, Lib Dem leader, said the judgment showed that Johnson is "not fit to be prime minister".

Speaker John Bercow welcomed the court's ruling in a statement, saying the "judges have rejected the government's claim that closing down the parliament for five weeks was merely standard practice".

Bercow added that the judges "have vindicated the right and duty of parliament to meet at this crucial time to scrutinise the executive and hold ministers to account".

Labour MEP Claude Moraes tweeted that he did not expect such a "strong, unanimous and interventionist judgement", which he called "a real landmark ruling for our constitution.

Another Labour MEP Seb Dance said liberal democracy and the rule of law have come under "sustained political attack in recent months", but today "the rule of law asserted itself and whatever your politics we have to cherish that".

Brexit fallout

It is unclear yet, how the ruling will effect Brexit, but MPs now will have another chance to influence the UK's exit plans.

Just before the parliament was suspended, legislators passed a bill forcing Johnson to request an extension to the Brexit deadline if there is no agreement on the terms of divorce before 19 October, and thus making a no-deal Brexit also unlawful.

The European parliament's Brexit senior man, Guy Verhofstadt called it "a big relief" that "the rule of law in the UK is alive and kicking".

"Parliaments should never be silenced in a real democracy. I never want to hear Boris Johnson or any other Brexiteer say again that the European Union is undemocratic," he added in a tweet.

The EU commission did not comment on the the decision.

Norbert Roettgen, the chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, tweeted: "It is not my place to comment on judicial proceedings in #Britain. But as a fellow MP I do feel the need to express my joy and solidarity with British parliamentarians! #SupremeCourt #Brexit."

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