Denis Staunton: Ruling an enormous blow to Boris Johnson’s authority

Supreme court’s decision means that every part of UK prime minister’s strategy has failed

The supreme court's ruling that Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in suspending parliament for five weeks is an enormous blow to the prime minister's personal authority that has led to calls from all opposition leaders for his immediate resignation. The judgment is all the more powerful for its unanimity, which will help to protect the justices from attack from the government's supporters.

The government lost on every count, with the court ruling that the decision to prorogue was unlawful, that its effect was extreme in preventing MPs from fulfilling their constitutional duty and that it is null and void.

“Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices,” the court said.

“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.”


Commons speaker John Bercow said within minutes of the ruling that he would contact party leaders about reconvening parliament without delay and MPs will be back at Westminster on Wednesday.

The ruling means that the current parliamentary session will continue, with Bills that would have fallen with the prorogation remaining alive. The Queen’s Speech planned for October 14th will have to be cancelled unless Mr Johnson seeks to prorogue parliament again.

The court noted that a normal prorogation lasts only a few days and said the government had offered no justification for a longer one. The decision means that MPs will be sitting almost continuously in the weeks ahead of Britain’s scheduled withdrawal from the EU on October 31st.

Three-month delay

Parliament has already passed a law that obliges the prime minister to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if he has not secured a withdrawal agreement by October 19th.

With parliament sitting, MPs will be able to hold Johnson to account in the days after October 19th, limiting his opportunity to escape from the obligation to seek an extension to the article 50 deadline. With his majority reduced to minus 42 following the purge of Conservative Remainer MPs and opposition parties united in resisting his attempt to call an early election, the prime minister has almost run out of options.

The only way he can be sure of delivering Brexit on time is to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU and pass it through parliament. He will need to travel a great distance from his current negotiating position to reach a point where any deal is possible. And he would need the support of the DUP, almost all Conservatives and a significant number of Labour MPs to win a majority for it at Westminster.

The supreme court’s decision means that every part of Johnson’s strategy has failed so that he is trapped in parliament at the head of a government that cannot win a single vote and with no escape through prorogation or an election. The only route out of his trap may be to change his strategy.