The UK Supreme Court held on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament in early September was unlawful.
Johnson moved to prorogue Parliament in early September, stating that the current term was one of the longest in recent history and that Parliament should be temporarily dismissed so that the government could develop a new legislative slate for a new session to begin in mid-October. Though opposition leaders decried the move as a political ploy to prevent Parliament from interfering with Johnson’s Brexit negotiations, Johnson received royal assent to prorogue Parliament in early September. A series of court challenges swiftly followed, with the Scottish court finding that Johnson had acted unlawfully while English and Northern Irish courts determined that the decision to prorogue was a political question over which the courts had no jurisdiction.
In a unanimous decision, the 11 justices of the court rejected the claims by the Johnson government that the decision to prorogue Parliament and the length of the suspension was a political matter over which the court had no jurisdiction. In the published opinion, Supreme Court President Lady Brenda Hale stated that there could be “no doubt that the courts have jurisdiction to decide upon the existence and limits of a prerogative power” and that Johnson’s decision to recommend the suspension of Parliament for more than a month was conducted unlawfully.
Though the power to prorogue Parliament is nominally vested in the Queen, it is done at the behest of the Prime Minister, who is required to present a justification for the prorogation to the monarch. It was this justification that the court found lacking in Tuesday’s ruling. According to the court, Johnson had failed to give “reasonable advice” for the extended length of the suspension and timing of the prorogation to the Queen, particularly with the rapidly approaching Brexit deadline. After lengthy examination of the internal memoranda written by administration officials prior to the prorogation, the court found that the primary purpose for suspending Parliament was not because of Johnson’s publicly stated reasons but instead was a political tactic to prevent Parliamentary interference with Brexit negotiations. “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,” the decision concluded. The court was quick to emphasize that the decision was limited to only deciding the legality of the prorogation and did not reach any conclusions about “when and on what terms the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union.”
In an interview with by BBC, Johnson expressed disappointment with the ruling, but agreed to “respect” the decision. Speaker of the House John Bercow said in a televised statement that Parliament will be called back into session on Wednesday, though Johnson will be unable to attend due to his presence at a UN summit currently ongoing in New York. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a press release that the court’s decision demonstrated the “contempt for democracy and an abuse of power” by Johnson and called on the Prime Minister to “become the shortest-serving Prime Minister there’s ever been” and resign following the ruling.