Yesterday the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest court, ruled unanimously that PM Boris Johnson had broken the law in his suspension or ‘prorogation’ of parliament. Before the court ruled it unlawful, Johnson had suspended parliament for 24 working days, planning to reopen on the 14th October with a Queen’s Speech. This parliamentary suspension was extremely controversial, viewed by many as an attempt on Johnson’s part to force Brexit through on his own terms by dint of simply not leaving enough time for parliament to debate before the 31st October deadline currently imposed by the EU.
The Scottish High Court initially ruled the prorogation unlawful, but only the Supreme Court could reverse the decision. This judgement was announced by the Chief Justice, Lady Brenda Hale, who said ‘The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue 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 concluded her remarks by proclaiming the original suspension of parliament null and void, saying that ‘Parliament is not prorogued!’.
As is to be expected, this decision has rocked the country. The Supreme Court has little precedence of ruling on political matters, a fact that Johnson supporters have seized upon. Despite Justice Hale making it clear that the court was not ruling whether and when Brexit should be carried out, but instead on whether the way in which Johnson suspended parliament was unlawful, many Brexiteers have seen it as an ‘elitist’ attempt to thwart the man who is carrying out Brexit. Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and prominent Brexiteer, tweeted ‘Anyone know how many of the Supreme Court judges voted Leave?’ – this is an attitude that seems to slightly miss the point of the historic judgement.
There is a certain irony in the Brexiteer outcry at the decision branding it ‘un-democratic’. The same people who called for ‘taking back control’ from the European Courts are now rejecting the decision of their own highest court, and criticising a decision that stops the executive from doing as he pleases without parliamentary interests, and by extension the interest of the country, as undemocratic. Although it is true that the court has ruled against the man who is attempting to carry out the wishes of the 52% who voted leave in 2016, stopping him from acting dictatorially cannot be criticised as undemocratic, particularly as only 0.13% of the British population voted for Boris Johnson as PM.
The most important question is what happens next. Parliament resumed today, with MPs on all sides of the House calling for Johnson’s resignation. At the Labour Party conference Jeremy Corbyn called for Johnson to become the shortest serving Prime Minister and ‘consider his position’. However, across the pond, Trump said that Boris is ‘not going anywhere’. Johnson’s premiership has not been smooth – he lost his first six parliamentary votes, has recently been questioned on a conflict of interest involving a former model and high security trade deals from his time as London mayor, and has now been found to have broken the law in his suspension of parliament. Furthermore, he has committed what the German paper Taggspiel called ‘a mortal sin that exists only in England: Never lie to the Queen!’. Although Johnson will undoubtedly try to commandeer the decision for his political gain, exploiting the ‘elite vs the people’s will’ attitude, there is a serious question over what will happen to him. Is this the point where bluster fails?