Johnson’s Prorogation Plan Set for Ruling in Scottish Court
Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament in the run up to Brexit will get its first real test Wednesday morning when a Scottish judge rules on a challenge by a group of lawmakers opposed to leaving the European Union without a deal.
Judge Raymond Doherty’s ruling in Edinburgh will be the first on the merits of the challenge to the prime minister’s controversial plan while similar cases are underway in Belfast and London. The U.K. Supreme Court is already planning to review any appeals on Sept. 17, days after Johnson wants to suspend Parliament.
The ruling will come as members of Parliament themselves -- in the time available before a prorogation comes into effect -- prepare a bill to force Johnson to ask for an extension, with the PM in turn threatening a snap election if his negotiations with the European Union are undermined.
Earlier Tuesday, lawyers for lawmakers told Doherty that Johnson’s move shows a “breathtaking” contempt for the U.K.’s constitution.
“This prime minister says in his own words, in his own handwriting, that the further sitting of Parliament is only a ‘rigmarole’ to show that MPs are earning their crust,” Aidan O’Neill, said, reading out an Aug. 16 note from Johnson in support of shutting Parliament that was disclosed to the court. In the letter, the prime minister continued: “I don’t see anything especially shocking about this proposition.”
The Scottish case is the first full court hearing of Johnson’s move to suspend debate in Westminster in the approach to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
Doherty brought forward the hearing in Edinburgh to Tuesday, saying it was in the interest of justice that the case be heard quickly. He allowed the Scottish government’s request to intervene alongside the lawmakers.
There are separate hearings slated for London and Belfast later this week, with claimants saying Johnson’s plan prevents lawmakers from holding the government accountable. MPs Jess Phillips and Alex Sobel said Tuesday that they would seek to join the London lawsuit.
David Johnston, a lawyer for the U.K. government, told Doherty that it disclosed the PM’s handwritten document “in the interest of candor.”
Johnston said the case shouldn’t be before a judge at all.
“It is politics,” he said. “It is high policy, it is not law.“
The prime minister announced the decision to prorogue Parliament two weeks after his note, framing the plan as part of the normal course of government business. The length of the suspension -- set to last from Sept. 12 until the Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14 -- appeared to blindside lawmakers.
The scheduled Sept. 17 review of any appeals at the Supreme Court means a final decision won’t occur until after the prorogation. Whether Parliament sits or not during that time will depend on the rulings from the lower courts, said Jolyon Maugham, the lawyer who spearheaded the Scottish case.
He said that he won’t be surprised if Doherty rules against the challenge Wednesday.
“I’ve always thought our case is more likely to succeed as we rise through the court system,” he said.
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