U.K. govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal
A historic three-day hearing pits the powers of Britain's legislature against those of its executive as the country's scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms
LONDON – The British government was back at the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament just weeks before the country is set to leave the European Union was neither improper nor illegal.
It’s the second day of a historic three-day hearing that pits the powers of Britain’s legislature against those of its executive as the country’s scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms over the U.K. economy and its political landscape.
Government lawyer James Eadie argued that a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law. Eadie called the decision to shut down Parliament “inherently and fundamentally political in nature.”
He said if the court intervened it would violate the “fundamental constitutional principle” of the separation of powers between courts and the government.
“This is, we submit, the territory of political judgment, not legal standards,” Eadie said.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accuse Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
The government claims the shutdown was routine and not related to Brexit.
Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 departure from the EU.
The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. But many U.K. lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing. They have put obstacles in his way, including a law compelling the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t get a divorce deal with the EU.
Parliament’s suspension spared Johnson further meddling by the House of Commons but sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts gave contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the move was a political rather than legal matter but Scottish court judges ruled Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right. The justices will give their judgment sometime after the hearing ends on Thursday.
A ruling against the government by the 11 Supreme Court judges could force Johnson to recall Parliament.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile said Wednesday that the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal remained “very real” because Britain had not produced workable alternatives to the deal agreed upon with the EU by ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May. That deal was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign and bringing Johnson to power in July.
“I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you – while looking you straight in the eye – that progress is being made.”
Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told members of the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, that a no-deal Brexit “might be the choice of the U.K., but it will never be ours.”
After the debate, the European Parliament was to adopt a resolution laying out its concerns about Britain’s impending departure from the EU.
Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and Gregory Katz in London contributed to this story.