Edinburgh (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a fresh blow Wednesday when a Scottish court ruled that his controversial decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful.
The government immediately appealed, with the case set to be heard in the Supreme Court next Tuesday, and parliament will stay shut in the meantime.
Johnson says the decision to suspend — or prorogue — parliament until October 14 is a routine move allowing his government to launch a new legislative agenda.
Critics accuse him of trying to silence opposition to his plan to leave the European Union on October 31 even if he has not agree exit terms with Brussels.
Johnson argues that while he is working to get a deal, Britain must leave the bloc regardless — but MPs fear a disorderly divorce would be hugely disruptive.
Before it was suspended on Tuesday, the House of Commons rushed through legislation to force Johnson to delay Brexit if there is no deal by an EU summit on October 17.
After Wednesday’s legal ruling, the opposition Labour party demanded that Johnson allow MPs to return.
“I urge the prime minister to immediately recall parliament so we can debate this judgement and decide what happens next,” said Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer.
However, a government source told AFP that “nothing is changing” until the case was concluded.
A cross-party group of MPs protested outside the parliament building on Wednesday, saying they were ready to take back their seats.
– ‘Stymying parliament’ –
The Scottish court challenge was brought by 78 British lawmakers, who said it was unlawful for Johnson to advise Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue parliament if the aim was to limit consideration of Brexit.
A lower court last week ruled that the advice on prorogation was a matter of political judgement and not for judges to decide — but this was overruled by the Inner House, Scotland’s supreme civil court.
In a summary judgement released Wednesday, the court added that Johnson’s advice “was motivated by the improper purpose of stymying parliament and that it, and what has followed from it, is unlawful”.
A spokesman for Johnson’s government said it was “disappointed” by the decision and would appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The UK government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda. Proroguing parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this,” he said.
He noted a separate legal challenge to prorogation brought at the High Court in London last week had failed.
– Election pact rejected –
Johnson, a leading figure in the 2016 referendum campaign for Brexit, took office in July promising to finally take Britain out of the EU on October 31, no matter what.
But he has no majority in the Commons, and MPs will not let him leave without a deal — or allow him to call an early election that might bolster his position.
He says he is trying to renegotiate the divorce terms struck by his predecessor Theresa May, which MPs have repeatedly rejected, but EU leaders have so far refused.
They accuse London of failing to come up with any new ideas on the thorniest problem — how to keep Britain’s land border with Ireland open after Brexit.
Johnson’s European adviser, David Frost, was in Brussels on Wednesday amid speculation the premier is softening his opposition to the current frontier “backstop” plan.
This could keep Britain tied to EU rules for years after Brexit in order to avoid any trade barriers.
Labour, which blocked an attempt to call an election in October, says it would back one after Brexit is either delayed, or a deal has been done — pointing to a possible November poll.
Eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage on Wednesday suggested an election pact with Johnson’s Conservative party, where they would both agree not to challenge each other in certain seats.
However, a Conservative source rejected this, saying Farage was not a “fit and proper person and… should never be allowed anywhere near government”.