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Brexit: The Supreme Court Ruling


With Parliament being resumed by the Supreme Court, this blog breaks down what happened and why.

Tuesday 24th September, the Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister had no justification for the proroguing, suspending, Parliament. The Court later ruled that Parliament must return immediately to resume business. It's the first time a decision of this kind has been made, so let's look at what happened, why and what next.

Why suspend?

Following the party election of Boris Johnson to leader of the Conservatives, he promised to introduce a “new and exciting agenda” for the country- tackle knife crime, fund the NHS etc. Nothing stops him prioritising this anyway, but he wanted to use a Queen’s Speech to unveil the new agenda.

The Queen’s speech is usually an annual ceremony, in which the Queen outlines the priorities of the Government. To do so the Queen closes Parliament, halting Parliament activity and scrapping any laws currently being debated, reconvening it several days later, and Parliament votes to approve the speech, or Government agenda.

However, Johnson triggered controversy when it was announced Parliament would be suspended for four weeks. This was not helped by the fact that Johnson lost his first five votes in Parliament, fueling speculation Johnson only wanted to avoid Parliament debate & accountability to force through his vision of Brexit.

What has happened?

So yesterday, 24th September, the Supreme court ruled that Johnson had unlawfully advised, but not lied to, the Queen about the purpose of prorogation.

This case was sent to the Supreme Court as the result two appeals. The English courts had ruled that the issue was not a legal one, but a political one, i.e. no law existed to break, but the Scottish courts ruled that Johnson had unjustifiably and unlawfully misled the Queen. Both verdicts were appealed, and the case went to the UK Supreme Court, in which 11 of the country's top judges ruled against the Prime Minister.

The Supreme Court found that Johnson had tried to prevent “the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification”, and that this was unlawful (Full court summary here). It was unsure what this would mean, and what the court would do, but in a landmark moment, the declared that Parliament should act as if it were not suspended and immediately resume business.

Pretty historic if you ask me.

What next?

Parliament speaker, John Bercow, has called Parliament back this morning at 11.30am, with Labour MPs rushing back from their Brighton conference and the Prime Minister having to come back from the UN Summit in New York. There will surely be a furious debate on the politics and power of the Prime Minister, but what does all this noise mean in reality?

Honestly, not that much. Legislation that could’ve been lost will be revived and the Prime Minister will lose a lot of credibility, but on Brexit Parliament is still not unified behind an outcome, No Deal has been politically ruled out and the opposition refuse to back an election (until No Deal is properly avoided). So, again, three years on the political stalemate continues with an increasingly complex, but no clear, way forward.

However, if there is going to be any major movement, the EU will also need to agree. The final UK-EU summit is on October 18th, and it is here we will know if an unlikely deal has been struck or if Johnson has had to ask for an extension. There have been some warm words about negotiations, but skepticism persists about any actual progress. Without EU agreement (of a deal or extension), we’re back on course for October 31st cliff edge…

The Chamber is actively telling members to prepare for every eventuality, and this is crucial as we enter the last month before the October 31st deadline. While we campaign against No Deal (You can see why here), we have produced a series of Webinars, Checklists, and now Events from the Department for International Trade. If you have any Brexit related issues, please get in touch with the Chamber today.