The second day of legal prorogation battle ended yesterday with the Supreme Court deciding that suspension of parliament is not for the courts to "design a set of rules" over prorogation (i.e. the suspension) as it was a political matter.
Two appeals will be heard in the Supreme Court over the next three days. The first appeal is being led by campaigner Gina Miller against the decision of the English High Court to dismiss the allegations of unlawful prorogation. The second appeal is on behalf of the Johnson’s government challenging the Edinburgh’s Court of Session deeming the prorogation was unlawful.
Britain’s premier Boris Johnson earlier came up with the brilliant move to shut down, or at least slow down his opposition from stopping the no-deal Brexit. Parliament will be suspended for 5 weeks and will resume on the 14th of October. This leaves the MPs who oppose the no-deal Brexit hardly enough time to come to any kind of resolution before the UK leaves the European Union with no agreement in place on 31st October.
Johnson denied the claims that the suspension stemmed from the crisis brought on by Brexit, rather he claims that the parliamentary session was one of the longest and therefore had to be ended. A Scottish court has already ruled Johnson’s move to suspend parliament as unlawful. However, parliament is unlikely to be resumed and the UK's Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the government next week.
Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to suspend or “prorogue” Parliament until October 14th. The queen approved Johnson’s request. The chances that she would deny the request were low in the first place. The British monarch usually stays away from politics as much as possible and the request was simply a formality of Johnson’s part.
However, opposition parties have raised accusations that Johnson deliberately misled the Queen in order to suspend parliament. Critics of Johnson have accused him of flinging the UK into a constitutional crisis. Moreover, opponents of no-deal Brexit claim that leaving the EU without a deal carries the risk of potential economic fallout.
The current October 31 deadline dates back to Theresa May days. During her tenure, the parliament had rejected the Brexit divorce agreement thrice and failed to agree on an alternative Brexit plan. However, it rejected the no-deal exit due to the likelihood of the aforementioned economic repercussions. When parliament asked May to negotiate an extension, the current October 31 deadline was finalized.
In stark contrast to May’s failure to resolve Brexit, Boris Johnson spearheads the do-or-die Brexit, i.e., his ultimate goal is to deliver Brexit no matter what the cost. Keeping in line with this philosophy, Johnson has taken the bold move of suspending parliament in order to prevent MPs from obstructing Brexit.
The speaker of House of Commons, John Bercow has taken a hard stance against Johnson’s move, calling it ‘a constitutional outrage’. He has called the PM’s move to suspend parliament an illegal attempt by to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October.
The day before Johnson suspended parliament, both opposition and no-deal opponents spearheaded by Jeremy Corbyn, agreed to prioritize legislation that would put a stop to no-deal Brexit. Johnson shrewdly prevented this strategy by putting a stop to parliamentary sessions all together.
While there is no concession amongst the MPs regarding Brexit, with some favoring leaving and some supporting staying, almost all oppose a no-deal Brexit. Leaving the EU with no deal in place runs the risk of flinging the UK in a deep crisis, with food and fuel shortages an immediate and frightening possibility.
Johnson’s move has already angered opposition and confused even some from his own party. This might be exactly the right trigger for the opposition to unite and perhaps take down Johnson’s government. At least that is what Corbyn hopes, and the Labour party at this point wants to form a caretaker government to negotiate a Brexit delay and then call new elections.
Whether that would be wise is another question altogether. The deadline of October 31st is hanging over their hands and with each passing day, the possibility of finalizing a deal gets slimmer and slimmer. The EU has already announced that it will not reopen talks on the divorce deal.
Johnson however, tried to renegotiate the deal to get rid of the Irish backstop. The Irish backstop, a draft agreement to prevent a hard border in Ireland (between Northern Ireland in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU) has become one of the sore points of the Brexit deal and has already derailed talks. The EU however, rejected Johnson’s plea to get rid of the backstop last month. European Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud criticized Johnson’s request as, “it doesn’t set out what any alternative arrangements could be, and in fact it recognizes that there is no guarantee that such an arrangement will be in place by the end of the transitional period”.
Removing the Irish backstop, as Johnson wants, might invite conflict back into the region. The fragile peace in Northern Ireland established with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 will likely be shattered if a hard border is instated between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Critics of Johnson are worried a similar situation to “the Troubles” (an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland during the 20th century which claimed thousands of lives) can arise if the UK enforces a border between the two halves of Ireland.
When parliament resumes, the MPs will have very little time to hash out the different possibilities of a deal. The most likely scenario at the point would be to go with Johnson’s deal or go with no-deal Brexit. Clearly, Johnson has them all backed into a corner and only time will tell whether this ends up being a good thing for the UK or a very terrible outcome indeed.
One thing that has been made clear from all the confusion arising from Johnson’s suspension of parliament, the UK must take a long, hard look at its democratic process. Clearly something is amiss if majority of people are left disgruntled by the state of politics in the country.
Synthia Kainath Nur
is working with