Right now, Boris Johnson is in New York for the UN General Assembly. Given everything that occurred today, he probably could not be more thankful to be so. And yet, despite being nearly 3,500 miles away, the Supreme Court today ruled. that no person or institution can act unlawfully, no matter how mighty they may be. Unanimously, the eleven judges of the Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister had unlawfully prorogued (or suspended) parliament as it stopped parliament doing its job without a reasonable justification. In a modern democracy, its hard to overestimate the severity of such a charge.
What was the response?
The PM has said that while he “strongly disagreed with what the justices have found” it is a verdict that would be respected by the government.
Inevitably, opposition MPs have been lining up to call on the PM to resign. Jeremy Corbyn, addressing his party conference in Brighton, invited the PM to “consider his position” while Lib Dem leader Joe Swinson went even further saying that if he was willing to break the law to avoid scrutiny, he was not fit to be Prime Minister and should resign immediately.
What happens next?
Very simply, parliament comes back to work tomorrow at 11:30.
It was feared that with the suspension of parliament, all pieces of legislature and policy that were working their way through parliament but had not yet been passed be lost – as is the case in a prorogation. This time, it was feared that laws that increased the sentence for those convicted of animal cruelty, changes to divorce law, and a bill to introduce a definition of domestic abuse had been lost and would have to start again. However, because the court ruled that the suspension was null and void, all of these things are now back as they were.
Could the PM prorogue parliament again?
Yes, he could. Arguably, it looks like he might. In his response, he said that the government was going to continue preparing a Queens Speech, and in order to do that you need to prorogue parliament. The court has also not ruled this out, theoretically at least. As long as there is “reasonable justification” for the suspension of parliament then the government is free to do so.
What does this mean for Boris Johnson?
Were this pretty much any other time in history, that would be the end of the Johnson premiership. But such extraordinary times do we live in now, that his departure is extremely unlikely – for the time being at least. As mentioned, resignation calls are being hurled at him with gusto – and with very good reason. But while he may not go, the gravitas of today’s ruling will not be lost on him or any of his supporters – both those who have always backed him to the hilt, and those who reluctantly backed him in the hope he could break the deadlock.
Number 10 are unlikely to take this lying down though. Expect them to come out swinging, posturing before the inevitable general election. The BBC reported today that a source close to No. 10 said the Supreme Court had made a “serious mistake” by extending in to political matters and that the court had “made it clear that its reasons [were] connected to the Parliamentary disputes over, and timetable for Brexit”. This is in spite of the fact the judges repeated time and time again throughout the hearing that they were not interested in when or on what terms the UK leaves the EU. Despite the seriousness of today’s ruling, it may even play into the election plan for Boris Johnson.
Is anything any clearer?
Honestly, in terms of the outcome of Brexit and a way out of the current constitutional crisis, not really – at least, not immediately. Once parliament is back and able to scrutinise both Government policy and behaviour, we may start to get a better picture. Then again, if another prorogation follows, or a general election follows, or the resignation of the PM follows, then we may be none the wiser.
Whatever you do though, do not underestimate how significant what happened today is politically, constitutionally and historically.