Court Challenge to Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plan Runs Into Trouble

(Bloomberg) -- Last-minute court cases designed to complicate Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan before a vote on Saturday were rejected by a pair of U.K. judges.

A judge in Edinburgh threw out a claim seeking to delay the Parliamentary vote based on a technical violation of the U.K. tax code, calling the motion “weak.” Hours earlier in London, a trio of judges rejected a bid to hold an emergency hearing on whether Johnson would need to seek a Brexit extension if was unable to win lawmakers backing for his deal.

The rulings pave the way for a vote Saturday on Johnson’s agreement to leave the European Union on Oct. 31. Prior to Friday, Brexit opponents had had tremendous success in court, winning cases that gave lawmakers enhanced oversight of some steps on the path to leaving the EU and overturning Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament last month.

In London, the civil-rights group Liberty was seeking a declaration that Johnson must not flout the Benn Act, which requires the prime minister to extend the Brexit deadline if he doesn’t get his deal through Parliament Saturday.

There will be “utterly profound constitutional consequences that by Monday morning will be incapable of remedy,” Richard Hermer, Liberty’s lawyer, said in court. The group wanted a judicial review to focus on the prime minister’s obligations “not to frustrate the purpose and provisions of the Act,” lawyers for Liberty said in court documents.

While the review remains alive, the judges would not step in Friday before the vote on the deal Johnson negotiated with the European Union.

“A deal has been reached. There will be Parliamentary scrutiny,” James Eadie, the government lawyer, told the court. “There’s a really significant turn of the kaleidoscope happening on Saturday.”


Separately in Scotland, attorney Jolyon Maugham sought to use what he saw as a breach of taxation legislation to secure more time for Parliament to scrutinize the agreement. The lawsuit quickly ran into opposition from the judge and even the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow sent a letter opposing the challenge.

“What is very unusual, to my mind, about this case is that it involves the court becoming quite closely involved in how Parliament handles it business, how parliament handles motions, etcetera,” Judge Paul Cullen said. In his final ruling, he called the claim “misconceived and unjustified.”

Maugham, who spearheaded several anti-Brexit lawsuits, said he was unlikely to appeal the ruling. He admitted that the timing of Johnson’s deal -- reached this week with EU officials -- and the Parliamentary vote made the decision to go ahead with the case “difficult.”

“It is difficult to move quickly and accurately and, the court has found, that I got that decision wrong,” Maugham said in a statement posted on Twitter.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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