PM Johnson’s suspension of Parliament illegal, judges rule
LONDON — A panel of three Scottish judges ruled Wednesday that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was illegal, escalating an already passionate debate over whether the British prime minister respects the rule of law and throwing into greater doubt his plans for Brexit.
The ruling does not mean Parliament will come back into session. But it does give the prime minister’s opponents hope ahead of an expected Supreme Court hearing next week. Some raised the prospect that Johnson will have to resign if he loses that case.
The Scottish judges ruled that the government had been misleading — including, perhaps, to the queen — about its real reasons for the five-week suspension and that the move was “unlawful because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament.”
The Supreme Court case will be heard Tuesday after the prime minister’s office said it would appeal the Scottish ruling.
“We are disappointed by today’s decision,” Downing Street said.
A government spokesperson later ruled out recalling Parliament at least until the Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in.
Wednesday’s ruling contradicts two other judgments. Courts in England and Wales had ruled that Johnson’s move was legal. Another Scottish judge, meanwhile, had decided the courts did not have the authority to interfere in the suspension.
Scotland has a separate legal system from England and Wales; the Supreme Court, which is based in London, rules on matters relating to both jurisdictions.
Johnson critics celebrated Wednesday’s decision saying they had been “vindicated.”
“You cannot break the law with impunity, Boris Johnson,” Joanna Cherry, one of more than 70 lawmakers who brought 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 Labour Party joined that demand.
Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, said fellow Conservative Johnson should step down if it turns out he “had misled the queen about the reasons for suspending Parliament,” he told the BBC. “That would be a very serious matter indeed. Indeed, in my view, it would then be the moment for Mr. Johnson to resign, and very swiftly.”
Queen Elizabeth II had agreed to suspend Parliament, on the advice of the prime minister, as is customary.
The court battle over suspension could ultimately be a prelude to yet another legal battle that may arise from Brexit. Parliament last week passed a law requiring Johnson to seek an extension to the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union if Johnson cannot strike a deal before then.
To some, the brewing standoff reflects an executive that lacks the respect for laws and conventions that had been a given in previous governments.
The ruling contradicts two other judgments. Courts in England and Wales had ruled Johnson’s move was legal.