Image Credit: Evelyn Simak
Last Wednesday saw MPs return to Westminster after the Supreme Court overturned the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue – or suspend – Parliament. Boris Johnson had initially wanted the prorogation to last for a full five weeks. The last time that a suspension of Parliament for this length of time took place was in 1930.
Johnson claimed the prorogation would allow for the Government to set out a new legislative agenda, following his recent announcements to increase funding for the NHS and police service.
Critics rejected this assertion, arguing that Johnson’s actions represented a clear attempt to evade scrutiny on Brexit from MPs at such a crucial time before the UK’s planned departure from the European Union on 31 October. The power to prorogue Parliament does not lie with MPs, but instead with the Prime Minister who in turn advises the Queen to sign.
House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, labelled Johnson’s decision as a “constitutional outrage.”
As a result of prorogation, three separate court cases were instigated in order to challenge the Government’s decision to shut down Parliament as illegal.
The High Court in England and Wales concluded that prorogation was not a matter for the judiciary, while the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled against the Government, citing Johnson’s actions as unlawful.
This effective deadlock resulted in the Supreme Court case which concluded last Tuesday. The 11 Supreme Court judges, led by Lady Hale, ruled unanimously that Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful.
In her concluding remarks, Lady Hale said “This court has […] concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty to suspend Parliament was unlawful, void and of no effect. This means that the Order in Council to which it led was also unlawful, void and of no effect [and so] should be quashed.”
As a result, the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, recalled Parliament the following day.The case was brought by anti-Brexit campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, who previously took the Government to court back in the autumn of 2016. This High Court case ruled in favour of Miller and asserted that Article 50 - the document triggering the UK’s departure from the European Union – could only be implemented through legislation passed by MPs in the House of Commons.
Gina Miller said “This case had nothing to do with Brexit – it was about the highest British court ruling that Johnson cannot set a precedent for prime ministers to close Parliament for extended periods to force through their own agenda, regardless of Parliament.”
The resumption of Parliament last Wednesday saw the cancellation of the final day of the Labour Party Conference and Boris Johnson flying home prematurely from the UN General Assembly in New York. Critics of the Prime Minister welcomed this decision as a vital opportunity to debate Brexit and to try to hold the Government accountable.
Referencing the court’s decision in Parliament, Johnson said he “respected” the court’s verdict, but did not think it should have ruled on what he regarded as a “political question.”
Recent legislation was passed by MPs to force Boris Johnson into ruling out a no deal Brexit, with a potential extension up until 31 January 2020. However, Johnson is currently holding firm in his assertion that he would rather “die in a ditch” than fail to see the UK leave the European Union on 31 October.
Parliament still stands to be prorogued again from Tuesday 8 October until the Queen’s Speech on 14 October. Supporters say this would allow the Government to set out its new policy agenda and create a new session of Parliament. Yet, critics say it does nothing to address the fact that a new deal has yet to be passed and secured by MPs.