Wow. Wow, wow, wow.
Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, just announced that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was illegal.
It was also null and void, and “Parliament is not prorogued.”
This was a unanimous verdict of all eleven Supreme Court judges. This, despite them all having differing opinions on politics, the application of the law, and justice.
They all decided that our Prime Minister, our leader, acted illegally.
I Fought The Law And The… Law Won. Hard.
The general predictions about today’s ruling were that it would be hard-fought amongst the eleven justices. The varying opinions would have meant that a compromise ruling would likely have been found (although a unanimous decision was not required).
Pundits across the judicial and political spheres thought that the Supreme Court would likely decide the following:
- That the prorogation was justiciable (i.e. a legal, not political, matter);
- That the prorogation was, in this instance, unlawful;
- But as it was unprecedented territory, the Court would give a verbal slap on the wrist to the Prime Minister and perhaps spell out the law for future rulings.
Two out of three ain’t bad.
The key difference is the third part of the ruling, or the “remedies.” The Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister’s actions were unlawful, and that this prorogation, in legal terms, never happened.
Both barrels. Bang. Bang.
Why Was The Ruling So Severe?
Lady Hale, in her address where she announced the ruling, insinuated that the lack of any kind of evidence from Number 10’s office was a key factor in the ruling. In summary, Johnson failed to provide a sworn statement from any staff member within his office that stated that he was telling the truth.
Essentially, Johnson had told everyone, from the Queen to the public, that he was proroguing Parliament for a Queen’s Speech rather than to deny Parliament its ability to scrutinise the government, but had no proof for this. The only proof was to the contrary.
The Supreme Court inferred from this that prorogation was never about a Queen’s Speech, but to prevent Parliamentary scrutiny. The ruling isn’t about Johnson lying to the Queen, but preventing our democratic system from working effectively.
For more details on this, last week’s article explains the details of the case in full, here.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling demonstrates the sentiment within the highest judicial court in the land that our constitution needs to be protected against populist, untruthful governments.
And good God, they have laid down the law.
Is This A Good Thing?
Yes. Categorically yes.
Whatever your views on Brexit, Leave or Remain, there is a simple truth at the heart of it.
It cannot happen without it being carried out legally, democratically, and through the proper channels. Yes, the referendum was a rare, direct expression of democracy in a representative system, but the open-ended nature of the answer “Leave” means that it falls to our elected representatives to enact it as they see fit.
While the last few months (/years) have been tortuous, everything has happened in the correct way. It’s been stifling, divisive and infuriating, yet it has been lawful.
Our Prime Minister, egged on by his Machiavellian aide, Dominic Cummings, has tried to break our constitution to carry out the wishes of roughly half of our country’s citizens. The highest court in the land has judged him to have lied to all of us, and bypass democracy, to push through Brexit at all costs.
If nothing else, there is a practical argument here, too – a Brexit that is unlawful is open to legal challenge. If no-deal, or even any kind of Brexit, had happened through unlawful means, it would be challenged again, and again, and again.
It would never end.
Today, one pillar of our constitutional system protected our democracy from manipulation by those who do not respect it. Parliament’s role as a scrutiniser of Government has been safeguarded, and the Supreme Court has made clear that those who wish to run roughshod over our democratically-elected politicians will be stopped.
So… What Now?
Theoretically, and most likely, Parliament returns tomorrow.
Tomorrow is usually PMQs. It is desperately unfortunate that Boris Johnson is currently in the US attending a UN Climate Summit, because that would have been one hell of a PMQs.
It is meant to be Johnson’s prerogative to recall Parliament, but seeing as Parliament isn’t actually suspended anymore, there is nothing to stop MPs from returning tomorrow morning.
What of Johnson? What of Cummings? Both should, by most accounts, resign immediately. But if the Prime Minister resigns or loses a vote of no confidence, does that mean that Parliament is dissolved for a General Election? If that happens, a no-deal Brexit might happen by default (although thanks to the Benn Bill, a chosen representative would probably ask the EU for an extension instead of the Prime Minister).
There is talk of a government of national unity being formed, a cross-party coalition of MPs who will work to solve Brexit before having a General Election, but it’s hard to see how one might be formed, or what it might achieve.
All in all, what comes next is anyone’s guess. But make no mistake – today’s ruling was historic. Shocking, yes, but historic.
And, unless you’re Boris Johnson, a day worth celebrating.