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WORLD | 24-09-2019 10:07

Blow for PM as UK's top court rules Parliament suspension was illegal

Supreme Court rules Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the crucial countdown to the country's Brexit deadline was illegal.

In a major blow to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain's highest court ruled Tuesday that his decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the crucial countdown to the country's Brexit deadline was illegal.

The unanimous, strongly worded Supreme Court judgment declared the order to suspend Parliament "void and of no effect." The court found that Johnson acted to limit debate on Britain's impending departure from the European Union in violation of Parliament's constitutional role.

"The court is bound to conclude... that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue was unlawful," Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said.

She said this was "because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions".

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the historic verdict and said Parliament would resume its business Wednesday morning. He said citizens are "entitled" to have Parliament perform its core constitutional duties. There will not be a Prime Minister Questions session in Parliament on Wednesday because Johnson is in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Landmark decision

The landmark decision immediately prompted calls for Johnson to quit. The prime minister and Parliament have been at odds since he took power in July with the determination to take Britain out of the EU on October 31 with or without a divorce deal with the EU.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told his party conference that the decision shows Johnson's "contempt" for democracy and rule of law. He said Johnson should resign "and become the shortest-serving prime minister there's ever been."

"I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position," Corbyn told the party faithful in the southern city of Brighton.

The harsh tone of the court's decision, and the unanimous vote of 11 Supreme Court judges, led many to say that Johnson can't carry on.

"His position is untenable and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign," Scottish National Party legislator Joanna Cherry said outside the court.

Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said the suspension "was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification."

She said the court's decision means Parliament was never legally suspended and is technically still sitting.

Speaking from New York, ahead of the UN General Assembly, Johnson said he disagreed with the court but respected its ruling.

"I have to say that I strongly disagree with what the justices have found. I don't think that it's right but we will go ahead and of course Parliament will come back," he told British broadcasters during a visit to New York.

Unwritten rules

In this nation without a written constitution, the case marked a rare confrontation between the prime minister, the courts and Parliament over their rights and responsibilities.

It revolved around whether Johnson acted lawfully when he advised the queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks during a crucial time frame before the October 31 Brexit deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.

Johnson has refused to say whether he will resign or will seek to shut down Parliament again.

The decision followed three days of hearings last week.

The court rejected the government's assertions that the decision to suspend Parliament until October 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.

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 accused Johnson of misleading the queen, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.

– TIMES/AP/AFP

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