London: Legal battles over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament are stacking up, with one case filed by Brexit opponents heard in an Edinburgh courtroom.
Hours after Johnson said he intends to suspend Parliament for almost five weeks ahead of Brexit, a group of more than 70 British lawmakers sought an urgent court hearing in Edinburgh. The lawsuit asks a Scottish judge to interpret the UK’s famously unwritten constitution and the relationship between government and Parliament.
What does a legal challenge mean?
“You’re inviting the court to develop ideas about the sovereignty and supremacy of Parliament and to apply it to mean that Parliament must be able to sit for the next two months,” said George Peretz, a public law attorney, who regularly represents the government. It’s accelerated a legal battle over the advice a prime minister can offer the Queen that’s likely to end up at the UK’s Supreme Court. Yards from the Palace of Westminster in London, the top judges would likely have to cut short their annual summer recess to take the case.
How has the British government reacted to the outrage?
Johnson’s government on Thursday challenged opponents of Brexit in parliament to collapse the government or change the law if they wanted to thwart Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, John Bercow, said the suspension of parliament was a constitutional outrage as it limited the time the 800-year-old heart of English democracy has to debate and shape the course of British history. But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit supporter who is in charge of managing government business in parliament, dared opponents to do their worst. “All these people who are wailing and gnashing of teeth know that there are two ways of doing what they want to do,” Rees-Mogg told the BBC.
“One, is to change the government and the other is to change the law. If they do either of those that will then have an effect.
“If they don’t have either the courage or the gumption to do either of those then we will leave on the 31st of October in accordance with the referendum result.”
How has the British opposition reacted?
Britain’s opposition Labour Party will seek an emergency debate on Brexit next week, the party’s trade spokesman Barry Gardiner said, outlining plans which could give them an opening to pass legislation to block a no-deal Brexit. “On Monday, we will introduce what is known as a Standing Order Section 24 Motion and that would be to try and have an emergency debate,” Gardiner told Sky News. There is a small majority against a no-deal Brexit in the 650-seat House of Commons though it is unclear if opponents of Johnson within the Conservative Party would collapse his government in a vote of no confidence.
What has the EU said about the latest development?
The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Thursday that the bloc would protect its citizens, businesses and peace in Ireland “in all circumstances”.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland. It is our duty & our responsibility,” he said on Twitter. European Union ministers on Thursday urged Britain to choose an orderly Brexit. “We still hope it will be possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit and we are looking forward to any proposals from the British government that fit into the Withdrawal Agreement,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stephan Blok said. “It’s in nobody’s interest to see a no-deal Brexit.”
Why is the suspension of parliament such a big deal?
While British parliament is normally suspended for a few days ahead of a Queen’s Speech, the move caused outrage because of its timing and the length of the shutdown, which Johnson’s opponents say is an attempt to limit parliament’s ability to derail his Brexit plans weeks before EU exit day.
What is the Miller challenge?
Gina Miller, another Brexit opponent, filed a separate challenge in London Wednesday seeking an urgent review of Johnson’s decision. The 54-year-old said she hopes the courts will hear her case before Parliament is suspended. Suspending Parliament is a “cynical and cowardly” move, Miller said in a statement. She’ll argue that it isn’t right to stop lawmakers sitting when that would “frustrate Parliament and fetter it from exercising its sovereign right” to enact laws. The court has received Miller’s application and is considering it.
Are there any other challenges?
Meanwhile a third challenge, an application for an urgent injunction forcing Johnson to change his advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament, is underway in Belfast. “Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament is an assault on our democracy,” said Ian Murray, a Labour MP from Edinburgh and a petitioner in the case. “This is the people’s parliament, and the people deserve to have their representatives in Parliament during this vital period.”
What have Johnson’s supporters said?
Johnson’s supporters say the suspension is only an extra three days, since Parliament was going to be on hold for party conferences anyway. The government will put forward a “very exciting” domestic agenda, and lawmakers will have “ample time” to debate Brexit, Johnson said Wednesday.
So what happens next?
Next week will be the British parliament’s last chance to ensure it has some control over the Brexit process before a possible no-deal exit, Conservative lawmaker David Gauke said. When asked about a possible vote of no confidence in the government, he said: “I don’t believe that is the right approach.” “It does look like next week is essentially the only opportunity that parliament will have to maintain some control over this process and ensure that it has a say before we leave without a deal,” he told BBC radio.