Johnson refuses to rule out suspending parliament again

Prime minister claims he could take action on different grounds if court rules against him

Satircal artist Kaya Mar protests outside at the British supreme court following a hearing on the prorogation of parliament, in London. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Satircal artist Kaya Mar protests outside at the British supreme court following a hearing on the prorogation of parliament, in London. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

 

Boris Johnson has refused to rule out suspending parliament again next month if the supreme court rules that his current, five-week prorogation is unlawful.

“I have the greatest respect for the judiciary in this country. The best thing I can say at the moment whilst their deliberations are continuing is that obviously I agree very much with the master of the rolls and the lord chief justice and others who found in our favour the other day. I will wait to see what transpires,” he said during a visit to Wiltshire.

The British prime minister was speaking as 11 judges of the supreme court ended three days of hearings on two challenges to his decision to prorogue parliament until October 14th. David Pannick, representing one of the appellants, told the court that Commons speaker John Bercow could bypass the government by reconvening parliament if the suspension was found to have been unlawful.

“It may be that the speaker of the Commons and the Lord’s speaker, if this court were to declare that the advice were unlawful, will take action to ensure that parliament reopens next week and then parliament can debate and decide how exactly it wishes to proceed,” he said.

“The appropriate way forward is to let parliament sort out the problem. But it can only do so if the court grants a declaration that the prorogation of parliament was unlawful and encourages the prime minister to ensure parliament meets as soon as possible.”

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In a submission to the court, the government suggested that if the current suspension was found to be for an unlawful reason, Mr Johnson could prorogue parliament again on lawful grounds. And it warned of serious consequences if the court ordered that parliament should be reconvened immediately.

“A Queen’s Speech, and the State Opening of Parliament which accompanies it, is a significant political, constitutional and ceremonial occasion, which ordinarily involves the sovereign attending in person. As the court will be well aware, the proper preparations for a Queen’s Speech are a matter of thoroughgoing importance, including in relation to the content of that speech. Extensive arrangements would have to be made, including as to security, to enable this to occur. These considerations lead to the need for any order that the court makes, if necessary, to allow for these steps relating to the earlier meeting of parliament to occur in an orderly fashion,” it said.

Earlier, a lawyer representing former prime minister John Major compared Mr Johnson to a New Zealand estate agent who misrepresented a buyer as a genuine purchaser when in fact they wanted to resell the property for a quick profit.

“It could hardly be suggested that the duties of the prime minister to the monarch are less than those of an estate agent to a homeowner,” Edward Garnier said.

“Accordingly, if the court is satisfied that the prime minister’s decision was materially influenced by something other than the stated justification, that decision must be unlawful, irrespective of whether the unstated justification was itself legally impermissible.”

Brenda Hale, the president of the supreme court, said the judges would issue their ruling early next week.

“I must repeat that this case is not about when and on what terms the United Kingdom leaves the EU. The result of this case will not determine that. We are solely concerned with the lawfulness of the prime minister’s decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament on the dates in question,” she said.