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Boris Johnson's Suspension of Parliament Ruled Unlawful by Supreme Court

Jeremy Corbyn is already calling for his resignation.

by Zing Tsjeng
24 September 2019, 10:31am

Screenshot from Sky News

Who would have thought that the man one Foreign Office ex-colleague characterised as "a bit haphazard and ramshackle" would have led us into a constitutional crisis? That someone who once bulldozed a 10-year-old Japanese schoolchild during a friendly rugby match would enter our highest office with all the grace of a punchdrunk moose?

Well, now we have our answer. The UK Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks ahead of the October 31st Brexit deadline was "unlawful, void and to no effect".

"This was not a normal prorogation in the runup to the Queen's Speech," said Baroness Hale of Richmond, the president of the Supreme Court. "It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role."

"Progroging Parliament is quite different from Parliament going into recess. While parliament is progued, neither house can meet, debate or pass legislation."

"This prolonged suspension of parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances. The effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme. No justification with such an extreme effect has been put before the court."

WHAT DOES THE SUPREME COURT RULING EVEN MEAN?

There were only a few potential outcomes of the case, and they all involve a deeply confusing word that most in the country have never heard of: justiciable. Essentially, what that means is whether the issue of suspending Parliament is something the court should even concern itself with.

If the Supreme Court had ruled that Johnson's prorogation was non-justiciable, they were essentially backing off and saying, "We've got nothing to do with it! You sort it out!"

Justiciable? That meant judges rolled their sleeves up and were ready to play ball. There were two potential results from that – whether it was lawful or unlawful. If it had been deemed lawful, the government would have been effectively let off the hook.

But the Supreme Court didn't do that. Instead, all 11 judges ruled that prorogation was unlawful.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

The Supreme Court didn't direct Parliament to take action, other than to say that it was up to Parliament – in particular, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords – to decide what happens next.

Speaker John Bercow previously said that he would resign from his position ahead of the Brexit deadline. Well, it looks like he's back in business till then – and the ball is now in his court. He just released a statement indicating that he will seek to "convene Parliament without delay".

Due to the Supreme Court ruling that prorogation was unlawful and "of no effect", it effectively means that the suspension didn't happen. That means that all the draft legislation going through Parliament that were feared to be lost haven't actually been dropped at all – which is good news for bills like the Domestic Abuse Bill.

HOW DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN?

The government has always maintained that prorogation was the merely standard practice in preparation for the Queen's Speech. But a cross-party group of 75 MPs disagreed, believing that the decision to prorogue Parliament was to suspend debate ahead of the Brexit deadline, and brought the case forward in the Scottish courts.

As Baroness Hale of Richmond – the president of the Supreme Court – explained on the morning of the judgment, a high court in England previously ruled that the prorogation was non-justiciable. The Scottish court of session disagreed, saying that the move to suspend Parliament was taken for the "improper purpose of stymieing Parliament".

That meant that the case then went to the Supreme Court, where lawyers have been duking it out for the past week.

DOES BORIS JOHNSON HAVE TO RESIGN?

Unfortunately, Johnson's current position is a non-justiciable matter. But there are already calls mounting for him to step down. After the ruling was announced, Jeremy Corbyn took to the stage at the Labour Conference to say that the Prime Minister should "in the historic words, consider his position" (read: quit).

SNP Leader Joanna Cherry described his position as "untenable" and said that Johnson should "have the guts to resign". Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts has also called for his immediate resignation, saying: "The Prime Minister has shown himself to be no better than a tin-pot dictator, shutting down democracy to avoid scrutiny."

All in all, a terrible day for Boris Johnson and a great day for lawyers on Twitter.