Editorial

UK Supreme Court ruling a lesson to political leaders

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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We can't say we're surprised by the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruling that declared as unlawful British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

For what Mr Johnson sought to do was to prevent legislators from discussing in detail his plan to pull the United Kingdom (UK) out of the European Union (EU) without a deal this October 31.

Of course, Mr Johnson tried to mask his action with the unsubstantial argument that proroguing Parliament until October 14 was a routine move to allow his young Administration to set out a new legislative programme.

However, as the court pointed out in its ruling, it is indisputable 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 the fundamental change in the Constitution of the United Kingdom will take place on October 31.

Moreover, the court also pointed out that it was “impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason — let alone a good reason — to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.

As such, the advice given to The Queen to prorogue Parliament was unlawful “because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions”.

As a result, the suspension was “void and of no effect”, Supreme Court President Lady Hale said, adding: “Parliament has not been prorogued.”

Quite correctly, the Speaker of the House of Commons Mr John Bercow said that the judges “have vindicated the right and duty of Parliament to meet at this crucial time to scrutinise the executive” and announced that the House would reconvene today.

The Upper House of Lords said it would return today as well.

That the Supreme Court decision is unanimous is indeed a huge blow to Mr Johnson, whose vow to implement Brexit on October 31, with or without a deal, has not garnered support among the majority of legislators. In fact, readers will recall that in the week between returning from their summer holiday and the prorogation on September 10, parliamentarians passed a law to stop the UK leaving the EU without a divorce deal.

Yesterday Mr Johnson said that, while he did not agree with the Supreme Court ruling, he would respect it and has vowed to pursue Brexit. He also renewed his call for an early election to end the stand-off with Parliament, saying it was “the obvious thing to do”.

Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main Opposition Labour party, while agreeing that a general election was needed to settle the crisis, placed a condition on that position, stating that the election needs to take place as soon as the Government's “threat of a disastrous no-deal is taken off the table”.

How this will play out is yet to be seen, but we expect that today's meeting of the House of Commons will be interesting, if not boisterous.

Mr Johnson, of course, is now a badly wounded and weakened prime minister whose authority is being challenged by his political opponents.

It will be interesting to see if he survives this crushing blow which, we hope, will remind political leaders that regardless of their status and power, they are not above the law.


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