The U.K.’s highest court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline on how to proceed with exiting the European Union was against the law. The finding was the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices of the country’s Supreme Court, upholding a Scottish court’s earlier decision and plunging the country back into uncertainty over what exactly happens next. Parliament has been shuttered since Sept. 10 following Johnson’s decision to prorogue, or suspend, the elected body. It had not been set to reconvene until Oct. 14.
The decision delivers a stinging rebuke to Boris Johnson and affirmed what was plain to just about everyone: that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a thinly veiled effort to elbow Parliament out of the Brexit negotiations until it was too late to affect them. “This court has … concluded that the prime minister’s advice to Her Majesty [ to suspend parliament] was unlawful, void and of no effect,” the court’s judgment reads. “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 unanimity of the decision adds substantial symbolic force to a brutal blow to the prime minister. The ruling was widely expected to split the justices over whether the court had the constitutional authority to intervene in what the Johnson government had argued was “forbidden territory” and an “ill-defined minefield that the courts are not properly equipped to deal with.”
But now what? Following the ruling, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said with the court’s validation of “the right and duty of Parliament to meet at this crucial time to scrutinize the executive and hold ministers to account … the House of Commons must convene without delay.” “To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency,” he said.