Boris Johnson Called ‘Father of Lies’ as Parliament Suspension Attacked
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s motives for suspending parliament came under sustained attack as the government claimed the prime minister’s move was a political decision beyond the responsibility of Britain’s most senior judges.
James Eadie, the government’s lawyer, said Johnson’s decision isn’t for the courts because it’s “inherently and fundamentally political in nature,” even if the prime minister would gain from the move.
Eadie -- and Johnson -- were pressured to detail the government’s plan should the court rule against the prorogation of Parliament, with President Judge Brenda Hale warning it’d be “entirely inconvenient” if the clarifying document was late. It was the second time in two days that the country’s top justices asked for the plans.
The three-day hearing ends Thursday, with the justices retiring to consider their verdict in a landmark case that not only threatens to undermine Johnson’s position as prime minister, but could also curtail the British executive’s longstanding power over when the legislature sits. Johnson could be forced to recall Parliament, giving opponents of a no-deal Brexit more room to try to thwart his “do or die” promise to leave the European Union with or without a divorce agreement on Oct. 31.
Johnson’s veracity was questioned by opponents, who allege the decision to suspend Parliament was an abuse of power to prevent oversight of his plans. The government’s response, through Eadie, was that the court’s don’t have any jurisdiction over political moves.
“There is a political advantage to the government in having a clear space when it is not subject to the daily grind within which to prepare, not merely to do all the things that have to be done in relation to Brexit, but also to prepare a Queen’s Speech,” Eadie said.
Aidan O’Neill, acting for a group of lawmakers that won a ruling from a Scottish court that the suspension had the effect of stymieing Parliament, said the lawmakers were “entitled to an effective remedy.” He asked the court to quash the prorogation order.
O’Neill said he’d assume a government wouldn’t resort to “low, dishonest, dirty tricks, but I’m not sure we can assume that of this government given the attitude that has been taken by its advisers and the Prime Minister to the notion of the rule of law.”
Several judges expressed concerns about the lack of a signed witness statement from any senior government minister. Others questioned what controls Parliament has available to it, especially after the suspension had ended.
A defeat might prevent any further suspension in the run up to the prime minister’s deadline to leave the European Union on Oct. 31.
Robert Hazell, a professor for constitutional law at University College London, said the court didn’t “want to look foolish” if the government worked around an order forcing a return of Parliament.
Father of Lies
“The court’s worry is that they may hand down a declaration that the advice is unlawful but the government may then simply construct a more tightly worded argument and advice justifying prorogation for what is left of the period,” said Hazell.
Eadie said the situation is complicated, and that lawmakers would still have time in the days before the end of October should they want to enact further controls on Johnson’s plan.
“There is time, and it’s up to Parliament and the government to legislate what they consider necessary,” he said.
In his summing up O’Neill questioned whether the judges could trust Johnson to abide with any of their rulings.
“Do not let the mother of Parliaments be closed down by the father of lies,” he said.
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