Resignation calls grow after U.K. Supreme Court rules Johnson’s parliament suspension illegal
Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in London, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 as it made it's decision on the legality of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's five-week suspension of Parliament. In a setback for Johnson, Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that the suspension of Parliament was illegal. | Frank Augstein / AP

In a major blow to his fledgling and failing premiership, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s five-week prorogation (suspension) of Parliament was declared illegal by that country’s Supreme Court today.

Coming just five weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 deadline to leave the European Union, the court’s move is the latest episode in the tumultuous battle over Brexit.

The unanimous, resolutely-worded judgment said his order to suspend parliament was now “void and of no effect.”

The court also found Johnson acted to limit debate on Britain’s coming withdrawal from the EU in violation of the Parliament’s constitutional role.

Conservative Members of Parliament were put on an immediate media blackout by the party leadership.

The decision, written by Lady Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court, read:

“Such an interruption [the suspension of Parliament] in the process of responsible government might not matter in some circumstances. But the circumstances here were, as already explained, quite exceptional. A fundamental change [Brexit] was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October 2019. Whether or not this is a good thing is not for this or any other court to judge. The people have decided that. But that Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the democratically elected representatives of the people, has a right to have a voice in how that change comes about is indisputable.”

She continued by saying it was clear the Prime Minister did not have the support of the House of Commons on Brexit as evidenced by legislative motions which have mandated the country not leave Europe without a deal in place.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the high court’s decision, saying, “In reaching their conclusion, they have vindicated the right and duty of parliament to meet at this crucial time to scrutinize the executive and hold ministers to account.”

Bercow has called for Parliament resume business Wednesday morning.

The landmark ruling, marking a rare confrontation between the courts, Prime Minister, and Parliament absent a written constitution, led to immediate calls for Johnson to resign.

Read these other recent People’s World articles on the Brexit crisis:

Behind Britain’s Brexit mess: A push to destroy workers’ rights

Only a militant left can defeat new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

British far right celebrates Brexit vote, Trump offers congratulations

Johnson has been at odds with Parliament since he took power in July, determined to take Britain out of the EU, with or without a deal.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the decision by the Supreme Court shows Johnson acted wrongly in shutting down parliament and further demonstrates his “contempt for democracy.”

Corbyn continued: “I will be in touch immediately to demand that Parliament is recalled so that we can question the Prime Minister, demand that he obeys the law that’s been passed by Parliament, and recognize that our Parliament is elected by our people to hold our government to account.

“And I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position. And become the shortest-serving Prime Minister there’s ever been.”

The main issue examined by the Supreme Court revolved around whether Johnson acted lawfully when advising the Queen to suspend Parliament.

The court harshly rejected the Conservative government’s argument the decision to suspend Parliament until Oct. 14 was routine and not related to Brexit.

Government lawyers claimed that under Britain’s unwritten constitution, “it is a matter for politicians, not courts, to decide.” And though the courts can’t directly decide political questions, “the fact that a legal dispute concerns the conduct of politicians, or arises from a matter of political controversy, has never been sufficient reason for the courts to refuse to consider it.”

Right-wing allies: President Donald Trump appears at a press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. | Evan Vucci / AP

The government’s opponents argued Johnson illegally shut down Parliament for the “improper purpose” of evading lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans, and accused Johnson of misleading the Queen when seeking her approval for suspension.

The ruling by the 11 Supreme Court justices falls in line with a previous decision by the Scottish Supreme Court which also found Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament was illegal, and thus “null and void.”

The mood amongst members of Johnson’s Conservative Party is feverish, with a small minority asking Johnson to resign, according to unnamed sources from the BBC. But for the most part, Conservatives are digging in on their Brexit position and support of the Prime Minister.

But that support should be taken with a grain of salt, given the leaked e-mail sent out by the Deputy Government Chief Whip Amanda Milling, shortly after the judgment was announced, warning Conservative Members of Parliament not to comment on the case in the media or online.

“Can I ask that colleagues do not make public comment about the Supreme Court judgment, including media and social media,” read the email.

Johnson, who is at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, was asked about the court decision by reporters at a midday press conference today. He was questioned about he would respond to calls for his resignation.

“We respect the courts. I disagree profoundly with what they had to say,” he said. Speaking about his original decision to suspend Parliament, he remained recalcitrant, saying, “I think it was entirely right.” Dodging questions about whether he would resign and what his next steps would be, the prime minister simply said, “Frankly, I think we need to get on with Brexit.”

Johnson was joined at the press conference by President Donald Trump, who insisted the British leader would not resign. Trump dismissed the issue by calling it “just another day in the office” for the embattled prime minister.

The Trump administration has made it clear it wishes to enter into a trade agreement with the U.K. on terms only favorable to U.S. corporate interests—primarily the privatization of the U.K.’s National Health Service, direct sales of prescription drugs by U.S. pharmaceutical companies, and a decrease of regulatory and health standards in meat and agricultural products.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.