Par­lia­ment hia­tus found il­le­gal

U.K. leader’s ac­tion bid to avert Brexit scru­tiny, court says


LON­DON — A Scot­tish court dealt an­other blow to Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s Brexit plans Wed­nes­day, rul­ing that his de­ci­sion to sus­pend Par­lia­ment less than two months be­fore the U.K. is to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union was an un­law­ful at­tempt to avoid demo­cratic scru­tiny.

The gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately said it would ap­peal, while the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion de­manded that John­son re­v­erse the sus­pen­sion and re­call law­mak­ers to Par­lia­ment.

John­son in­sists that the coun­try must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or with­out a deal to smooth the way. But many law­mak­ers fear a no-deal Brexit would be eco­nom­i­cally dev­as­tat­ing, and they are de­ter­mined to stop him.

John­son says he shut

down the Par­lia­ment this week so he can start afresh on his do­mes­tic agenda at a new ses­sion next month. But the five-week sus­pen­sion also gives him a respite from re­bel­lious law­mak­ers as he de­cides his next move to break the po­lit­i­cal im­passe and lead Bri­tain out of the EU.

A panel of three Court of Ses­sion judges in Ed­in­burgh said Wed­nes­day that “the only in­fer­ence that could be drawn was that the U.K. gov­ern­ment and the prime min­is­ter wished to re­strict Par­lia­ment.”

One of the judges, Philip Brodie, said it ap­peared that the sus­pen­sion was in­tended “to al­low the ex­ec­u­tive to pur­sue a pol­icy of a no-deal Brexit with­out fur­ther par­lia­men­tary in­ter­fer­ence.”

The judges on Scot­land’s high­est civil court de­clared the sus­pen­sion “null and of no ef­fect,” but said Bri­tain’s Supreme Court must make

the fi­nal de­ci­sion at a hear­ing start­ing Tues­day.

Scot­land has a sep­a­rate le­gal sys­tem from Eng­land and Wales; the Supreme Court, which is in Lon­don, rules on mat­ters re­lat­ing to both ju­ris­dic­tions.

The Scot­tish court’s rul­ing came af­ter the op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers chal­lenged the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to shut down Par­lia­ment un­til Oct. 14 — just over two weeks be­fore Bri­tain is to leave the EU.

Last week, a court in Ed­in­burgh re­jected the law­mak­ers’ chal­lenge, say­ing it was an is­sue for politi­cians to de­cide, but that was over­turned Wed­nes­day on ap­peal.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment said it was dis­ap­pointed by the de­ci­sion and would ap­peal to the Supreme Court.

It noted that an­other chal­lenge to the sus­pen­sion, filed by trans­parency cam­paigner Gina Miller, was re­jected at the High Court in Lon­don last week by judges who said the de­ci­sion was in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal and “not a mat­ter for the courts.”

John­son on Wed­nes­day de­nied that he was be­ing anti-demo­cratic.

“If op­po­si­tion mem­bers of Par­lia­ment dis­agree with our ap­proach, then it is al­ways open to them to take up the of­fer that I’ve made twice now — twice! — that we should have an elec­tion,” he said in an on­line ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion. “There is noth­ing more demo­cratic in this coun­try than a gen­eral elec­tion.”

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians, how­ever, in­sisted that the gov­ern­ment must re­call Par­lia­ment. Law­mak­ers were sent home this week de­spite the ob­jec­tions of House of Com­mons Speaker John Ber­cow and op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers, who held up signs in the cham­ber say­ing, “Si­lenced.”

“You can­not break the law with im­punity, Boris John­son,” Joanna Cherry, one of more than 70 op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers who took the case in Scot­land, told re­porters out­side the court in Ed­in­burgh. “The rule of law will be up­held by Scot­land’s courts, and I hope also the Supreme Court of the United King­dom.”

The leader of Cherry’s Scot­tish Na­tional Party, Nicola Stur­geon, called for Par­lia­ment to be “re­called im­me­di­ately to al­low the es­sen­tial work of scru­tiny to con­tinue.”

The La­bor Party joined that de­mand. “He should do the right thing now, which is to re­open Par­lia­ment, let us back to do our job and to de­cide what to do next,” said Keir Starmer, the party’s spokesman on Brexit.

A gov­ern­ment spokesman ruled out re­call­ing Par­lia­ment at least un­til the Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in.

A num­ber of op­po­si­tion politi­cians re­turned to Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day any­way, as a way to protest the shut­down. Some law­mak­ers tweeted pic­tures of them­selves sit­ting on empty green benches in the House of Com­mons.

Bri­tain’s 2016 de­ci­sion to leave the EU has left the coun­try’s pol­i­tics grid­locked and has tested the lim­its of the U.K.’s largely un­writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion.

With a no-deal Brexit loom­ing, some mem­bers of the gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tives joined with the op­po­si­tion to de­liver a series of votes against John­son in the days be­fore Par­lia­ment was sus­pended. They passed a law that or­ders the gov­ern­ment to seek a three-month de­lay to Brexit if no agree­ment has been reached by late Oc­to­ber, and they twice re­jected John­son’s call for a snap gen­eral elec­tion.

The court rul­ing came on the same day that the gov­ern­ment gave in to a de­mand from law­mak­ers and pub­lished a doc­u­ment show­ing its as­sess­ment of the fall­out from a hard Brexit.

Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, the gov­ern­ment es­ti­mated that the num­ber of trucks cross­ing the main freight route be­tween Calais, France, and Dover, Eng­land, would drop by be­tween 40% and 60% within a day, with dis­rup­tions pos­si­bly last­ing up to three months. The sup­ply of cer­tain types of fresh foods and es­sen­tial medicines would de­crease, prices would go up, and poor peo­ple would be hit hardest.

The pa­per, dated Aug. 2, sets out the gov­ern­ment’s “rea­son­able worst-case plan­ning as­sump­tion” for a nodeal Brexit and de­scribes ma­jor dis­rup­tion for trav­el­ers be­tween Bri­tain and the EU and un­cer­tainty for U.K. cit­i­zens liv­ing in Europe. It says at­tempts to main­tain an open bor­der be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land would prob­a­bly fail. It also says a no-deal exit could trig­ger protests and even ri­ots.

The gov­ern­ment re­fused to com­ply with an­other part of Par­lia­ment’s de­mand — that it hand over emails and text mes­sages among of­fi­cials and aides dis­cussing the de­ci­sion to sus­pend Par­lia­ment. Michael Gove, the min­is­ter in charge of Brexit plan­ning, said the re­quest was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

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