The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen on suspending parliament was unlawful, plunging the government’s Brexit strategy into turmoil and prompting demands that the prime minister resign.
In a damning unanimous ruling, Britain’s highest court concluded the UK prime minister’s actions had stopped parliament from carrying out its scrutiny of the government. Mr Johnson’s critics claimed the five-week suspension, or prorogation, to October 14 was intended to stifle debate on Brexit.
“The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme,” said Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court.
“The court is bound to conclude, therefore, that 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 added: “Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices.”
Parliament will now be recalled on Wednesday, and Mr Johnson is cutting short a three-day visit to New York to return to London. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson should “consider his position and become the shortest serving prime minister there has ever been”.
Mr Johnson’s aides said the prime minister would not be resigning. But the authority of Mr Johnson, who is due to address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, and his ability to pursue a no-deal Brexit, are now badly damaged.
Mr Johnson told a business audience in New York he “strongly disagreed” with the Supreme Court ruling but respected its judgment. He will fly back to London overnight, arriving just before the resumption of proceedings at Westminster. He will also hold a conference call with his cabinet later on Tuesday.
The court ruling is a landmark decision for the Supreme Court which has now laid down a marker that courts have a wider ability to take a view of political decisions made by governments.
“Although this decision does not in any way stop the UK from withdrawing from the EU, it sets clear limits to the government,” said Nikos Skoutaris, a lecturer in EU law at the University of East Anglia. “It reminds the executive that in its goal to ‘take back control’, it cannot simply frustrate the democratic processes and functions of the UK constitutional order.”
The case is also a huge victory for anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller and 70 parliamentarians who brought separate legal challenges in English and Scottish courts arguing the prorogation was unlawful. Ms Miller was supported in her legal battle by former Tory prime minister John Major.
Sir John said Mr Johnson owed parliament an “unreserved apology”.
“I hope this ruling from the Supreme Court will deter any future prime minister from attempting to shut down parliament, with the effect of stifling proper scrutiny and debate, when its sitting is so plainly in the national interest. No prime minister must ever treat the monarch or parliament in this way again.”
The Supreme Court had to consider two conflicting decisions by lower courts. The highest court in Scotland had ruled that Mr Johnson’s advice on prorogation was unlawful and “clandestine” and was aimed at stymying parliament. By contrast London’s High Court found that Mr Johnson’s action was not even reviewable by the courts.