‘PM regards parliament a threat,’ hears UK Supreme Court

‘PM regards parliament a threat,’ hears UK Supreme Court
Copyright Peter Summers/Pool via REUTERS
By Euronews with Reuters
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Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament was motivated by preventing MPs from damaging government policy, it's been claimed.


Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament was motivated by preventing MPs from damaging government policy, it's been claimed.

That was the assertion of David Pannick QC in opening remarks of a landmark case at the UK's Supreme Court.

The court is hearing appeals over the legality of the prime minister's closing down — or proroguing — of parliament until October 14.

Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to suspend parliament for five weeks, saying the shutdown was necessary to allow him to introduce a new legislative agenda.

Opponents said the real reason was to prevent scrutiny and challenges by parliament where he now has no majority for his Brexit plans, especially his promise to leave the European Union by October 31 even if no divorce deal has been agreed.

In a damning judgement, Scotland’s highest court ruled last Wednesday that the suspension was unlawful and was an “egregious” attempt to stymie parliament.

However, a week earlier the High Court of England and Wales rejected a similar case, saying the matter was political and not one for judicial interference.

Both cases are now going before the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the United Kingdom, and its 11 judges will give a final ruling on whether Johnson’s advice to the queen was illegal.

Watch Euronews' Vincent McAviney reporting from the Supreme Court below.

What happened on the first day of the hearing?

In Tuesday’s hearings, David Pannick QC, representing those who are bringing the case against the government, said: “We say that Her Majesty The Queen enjoys no personal prerogative in this context.

"Her Majesty was obliged to accept the advice of the prime minister.

"We for our part are making no criticism of Her Majesty in these proceedings. Her Majesty acted on the advice of her minister.

“There is evidence in the form of statements by the prime minister himself that shows the prime minister regards parliament as at least a potential threat to the implementation of his policies.”

"There is an important part of our case is that the prime minister’s advice to her majesty was motivated, or at least strongly influenced, by the prime minister’s desire to prevent the risk as he saw it of parliament damaging government policy."

Pannick added that if the prime minister was not motivated by a desire to disrupt Parliament, he would have asked for a shorter prorogation.

“At it’s very lowest, the prime minister’s decision to prorogue for a period of five weeks prevents parliament from performing its scrutiny functions over the activities of the legislature,” he said.

Pannick also claimed the prime minister did not make a formal statement explaining his motivations for suspending parliament. He said the production of a witness statement would have resulted in legal consequences, such as an accusation of "contempt of court" if the prime minister’s statement was not truthful.

"Of course the prime minister can prorogue," he said, but this function could only be used "as is reasonably necessary with a reasonable objective".


To obtain a political advantage is an "impermissible purpose" of the proroguing of parliament, Pannick deemed, adding this would be the case if the "purpose or effect" of the extension was for the executive removing the scrutiny of Parliament.

Lord Richard Keen, for the government, argued in response to Pannick that there are several reasons why Parliament can be prorogued, “political as much as formal”.

“And certainly, the power to prorogue parliament is not in any sense limited to the preparation of a new Queen’s speech,” he said, referencing legal precedent.

Keen said that according to case law, it was not up to the court to decide how much time parliament can be prorogued, and that previous sovereigns have prorogued parliament for longer periods of time and for reasons other than a "King’s speech".

He also cited several times in which this had happened, including in 1948 when the executive prorogued Parliament to avoid scrutiny in the House of Lords.


Lady Hale, a judge on the Supreme Court, responded: “But of course, it could be said… that it was in order to enforce the will of the House of Commons, that is the democratically elected will of the House of Commons. Thus, in pursuit of democracy rather than against it.”

Keen rebutted: “It is quite clear that even if one attempts to drill down into what happened in 1948, or 1930, or 1914, prorogation is not being employed here for formal purposes, for standard purposes, or for non-political purposes.

"It is clearly being employed in circumstances where the executive wished to pursue a particular political objective. And they are entitled to do so.”

Keen further argued that section three of the recent Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act that was passed in July of this year allowed parliament to stop the prorogation if they had wanted to do so.

He said: “Parliament clearly anticipated that it might be prorogued or adjourned over that period.


“That is the whole purpose of section three. ‘If we are prorogued or we are adjourned, then we demand to be recalled.’ And that is the mechanism that Parliament determined should apply.”

Keen also responded to Pannick’s comments on the lack of a witness statement, stating that the Scottish Court did not require a statement from the prime minister and that he was not obligated to produce one in this case.

Background to the legal challenges

Supporters of the legal challenges, a mixture of anti-Brexit campaigners and opposition MPs, want parliament to be immediately recalled if the court backs them. Critics also say that if judges decide Johnson misled the monarch, then he must resign.

Johnson said the current session of parliament was longer than any since the English Civil war in the 17th century, adding that lawmakers would have plenty of time to again discuss Brexit after an EU summit on October 17-18.

Professor Thom Brooks, constitutional expert and Dean of Durham Law School told Euronews' Good Morning Europe he believed the Supreme Court would confirm


"It’s never happened (before) in modern British history and it’s clearly for the purposes of stymying parliament, as the Scottish court termed it.

"When they subpoenaed the notes of meetings from the Prime Minister, the notes said they were looking for ways of frustrating parliament and that was the inference the court made.

"Boris Johnson might try to put a brave face on what progress he thinks he’s making to a British audience and how far he thinks he might get in the prime court, but he has a very bad record of winning anything in the courts - as have earlier Conservative governments on Brexit and I think he’s going to lose this one too."

The Conservative government say opponents of Brexit are using the courts to try to frustrate Britain’s departure from the bloc which was backed by Britons in a 2016 referendum.

The Supreme Court ruled against the government in a similar constitutional case in 2017 when it said ministers could not begin the formal two-year exit process without the approval of parliament.


That case was led by investment manager Gina Miller, who is one of those taking on the government in the current legal battle along with former Conservative Prime Minister John Major.

The Supreme Court hearings will run until Thursday, with the verdict not expected until Friday at the earliest.

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