Boris Johnson is dead in the water after Supreme Court rules he acted unlawfully

Boris Johnson
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UK prime minister Boris Johnson has suffered a humiliating defeat after the Supreme Court ruled that his attempt to prorogue parliament was unlawful. There are now calls for him to resign.

The ruling

The Supreme Court ruling was made by eleven justices: Lady Hale, Lord Reed, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Carnwath, Lord Hodge, Lady Black, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lady Arden, Lord Kitchin, and Lord Sales.

Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, made it clear in her reading of the judgement that “the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful“:

A summary of the Supreme Court judgement is here and a video is here.

In the summary, Lady Hale concludes:

This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. This means that the Order in Council to which it led was also unlawful, void and of no effect and should be quashed. This means that when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgement of all 11 Justices.

As to what should happen next, Lady Hale added:

It is for Parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker to decide what to do next. Unless there is some Parliamentary rule of which we are unaware, they can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible.

The full judgement of the Supreme Court is here.

Speaker calls for resumption of parliament

Not long after the ruling, House of Commons speaker John Bercow announced that parliament will resume at 11.30am on Wednesday 25 September:

Bercow made it clear there will be no prime minister’s questions (PMQs).

Calls to resign

Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling there were calls for Johnson to resign.

One commentator pointed out how Johnson’s position was already weak, given his lack of a majority in the Commons and having no electoral mandate:

Another has called for not just Johnson to resign but also his side-kick Jacob Rees-Mogg, who as lord president of the Privy Council delivered the request for proroguing parliament to the Queen:

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused Johnson of showing a “contempt for democracy and an abuse of power”. He added that Johnson should now “consider his position” (i.e. resign):

Dead in the water

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC has also called for the resignation of Dominic Cummings, who is Johnson’s special adviser:

The ruling by the Supreme Court may well mean that not only is Johnson’s political career dead in the water, but also those in the cabinet who went along with his ill-fated attempt to prorogue parliament.

Nor should we forget the role played by Johnson’s financial backer, Crispin Odey, who it appears advocated proroguing parliament before Johnson was elected Tory leader.

For today’s ruling is stark: no one – neither the prime minister, nor his Cabinet, nor his backers – should consider themselves above the law.

Featured image via screenshot

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  • Show Comments
    1. An excellent explication of the position.

      The doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility means guilt for wrongdoing is shared by all. Its import for individual members is equal and uninfluenced by the size of the Cabinet.

      Ordinary Cabinet business only occasionally touches on topics of deep principle, probity, and conscience; for the generality of agendas it is acceptable to give tacit consent, after having raised objection, to a proposal backed by the majority; this because most differences are of opinion or judgement over morally neutral options.

      In matters of turpitude It cannot suffice for a Cabinet member to claim he articulated objection and/or voted against the proposal. He must nail principle to the mast and upon failing to dissuade colleagues from an action, he must resign from the Cabinet; thereby an honourable course is taken. Similarly when a seriously objectionable action is undertaken at behest of the prime minister alone, he advised by a clique rather than the Cabinet, objecting members of the government must resign from office. Not to do so incurs guilt by association because silence is taken to denote consent. Moreover, failure to register objection in public might be construed as malfeasance; bringing the matter to public/parliamentary attention could cause reconsideration and by not doing so possibility of averting a serious wrong may be lost.

      It follows that all members of the present Cabinet have, at best, seriously tarnished reputations bringing into question fitness to sit in Parliament. The same applies to lower tiers of minister and appointees to minor office. They may have had no say in the decision illegally to prorogue Parliament but once taken honourable people would immediately have disassociated themselves from Johnson’s plot to sideline Parliament.

      The matter doesn’t rest there. Every Conservative MP, other than former party members ‘dishonourably discharged’ from the party by Johnson, is complicit too. In principle, MPs are elected to use their best judgement on behalf of constituents and the UK as a whole. They ought be required to interpose their own intellect and moral awareness before deciding whether diktat from the prime minister should be supported. Conservative backbench members have displayed woeful understanding of the basis on which they were elected.

      Ousting Johnson is insufficient to eradicate backbench members’ own individual and collective culpability. If persons of integrity, which some may be, Conservative backbench MPs must stand aside and permit the Commons to quickly establish an interim government charged solely with cleaning up Johnson’s mess by either negotiating a lengthy extension to the Brexit timetable or by revoking Article 50; the latter the preferable solution because the stench of incompetence and corruption has utterly queered the pitch of negotiation and, in any case, it is by no means certain that people voting in the referendum (with naive binary question) were adequately prepared to access options.


      Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license (sic).

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