Demonstrators react on the ruling of the Supreme Court during a protest outside the Supreme Court in London, Britain September 24, 2019. (Reuters)
The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down parliament in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful, a humiliating rebuke that thrusts Britain’s exit from the European Union deeper into turmoil.
The unanimous decision by the court’s 11 judges undermines Johnson and gives legislators more scope to oppose his promise to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31. Opposition leaders demanded that he should resign immediately.
“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,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said, reading out the historic decision.
“Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices,” she added. “It is for parliament, and in particular the speaker and the (House of) Lords speaker, to decide what to do next.”
The speaker of parliament’s House of Commons, where Johnson has lost his majority and most lawmakers oppose his plan for an Oct. 31 Brexit with or without a deal, said the chamber must convene without delay.
“As the embodiment of our Parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay,” speaker John Bercow said. “To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency.”
Sterling initially hit a day’s high of $1.2479 after the ruling before falling back to stand at $1.2454 at 1045 GMT, up 0.2% on the day and only slightly stronger than before the court decision.
There was no word from Johnson, who was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly. He is due to meet business leaders this morning. The government declined immediate comment.
More than three years after the United Kingdom voted by 52%-48% in a referendum to leave the European Union, the future of Brexit remains uncertain, with options ranging from a turbulent no-deal exit to abandoning the entire endeavor.
The country is deeply divided and the court ruling was eagerly awaited, from pro- and anti-Brexit protesters gathered outside parliament to people watching on television in homes and offices.
Johnson’s reaction to the damning ruling could be crucial. He now faces a hostile parliament and a European Union that says his proposals for a Brexit deal are far too meager for a proper divorce deal.
Parliament was suspended, or prorogued in the formal term, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 14. The prorogation was approved by Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politically neutral head of state, on the advice of the prime minister.
Johnson, who took office in July, had claimed the suspension was necessary so that a new legislative agenda could be laid out and that it nothing to do with thwarting opposition to a no-deal Brexit.
After the ruling, opposition lawmakers demanded Johnson resign, saying he has misled the queen.
“I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to ‘consider his position’,” British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told delegates at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said Johnson was unfit to rule and that she was returning to Westminster to take up the fight against Brexit.
“He’s misled queen and country, and unlawfully silenced the people’s representatives. I’m on my way to resume my duties in the Commons and stop Brexit altogether,” Swinson said.
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon also said Johnson was unfit for office and if he did not resign he should be forced out.
The Supreme Court said the government had provided no reasoning for the decision to suspend parliament.
“It is 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,” the judges said in their ruling.