Europe Politics

UK's highest court to rule on whether parliament shutdown is lawful or not

Key Points
  • The British Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the lawfulness of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament on Tuesday.
  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility that he might suspend the British parliament for a second time if the country's Supreme Court rules that his first decision to do so was unlawful. 
  • The ruling is due at 10:30 a.m. London time.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit on September 23, 2019 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The British Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the lawfulness of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament on Tuesday.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility that he might suspend the British parliament for a second time if the country's Supreme Court rules that his first decision to do so earlier this month was unlawful. The ruling is due at 10:30 a.m. London time.

Speaking to journalists in New York on Monday, Johnson defended the decision to prorogue parliament just ahead of the Brexit departure date on October 31, saying "parliament will have bags of time to scrutinize the (Brexit) deal that I hope we'll be able to do."

Ahead of this week's UN General Assembly, he also sidestepped questions about his resignation if the court rules that his government offered unlawful advice to the nominally impartial British monarch.

In August, his government sought approval from the Queen to suspend parliament for 5 weeks in early September, ostensibly to begin a fresh legislative season in mid-October with a renewed set of his Conservative party's priorities for government.

Johnson has repeatedly insisted the U.K. will leave the European Union on October 31st with or without a negotiated exit agreement.

Critics argued his decision to shutter parliament for an unusually long period of time was actually a ploy to block lawmakers who might seek to legislatively tie Johnson's hands as he pursues negotiations with the EU. He hopes to use the possibility of an economically damaging departure from the world's largest trading bloc to strengthen his hand in talks with his European counterparts.

Last week the Supreme Court had spent three days listening to arguments about that parliamentary suspension - formally known as a prorogation - after two lower courts, in Scotland and England, had reached opposing conclusions on the subject.

An appeals courts in Scotland had said Johnson's actions were unlawful, while the High Court in England said it was a political decision that a court was not qualified to examine.

A lawyer for Johnson's government had suggested during arguments last week that the executive branch's relationship with parliament was an "ill-defined minefield" that should remain outside judicial scope.

The decision will have significant constitutional implications, with the 11 Supreme Court justices potentially forced to enter the combative arena of Brexit politics with their judgment, however publicly unwilling they have been to do so.

A decision that Johnson's administration acted unlawfully might not represent a death knell for his minority government, but is likely to further undermine its authority.

And it could lead to further criticism of the prime minister, with louder calls for him to step down. When asked whether he would do so, Johnson simply told the BBC in New York that he was "going to wait and see what the judgement is."

He insisted that his government "fully respects the law and fully respects the judiciary." Several of his ministers have previously hinted the government might seek to circumvent parliamentary legislation enacted earlier this month, that was intended to avoid an October 31st EU departure without a negotiated settlement.

One of the lawyers arguing against the government has said that if the court ruled in favour of his client, and found that Johnson's actions to suspend the legislature had indeed been unlawful, then parliamentary leaders would be within their rights to recall lawmakers immediately.

The reassembling of a fractious parliament now might mean a renewed focus on efforts to further limit Johnson's Brexit choices, especially if lawmakers feels further empowered to defy the government.

The Labour party's point person on Brexit, Keir Starmer, said this week that Johnson will face consequences if he is found to have acted unlawfully. And he warned that as soon as parliament returns, he and his fellow opposition lawmakers "will be ready."

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