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What next for Boris Johnson after the Supreme Court ruling?

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at United Nations Climate Action Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at United Nations Climate Action Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. -
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British opposition lawmakers called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign on Tuesday after the Supreme Court ruled that he acted unlawfully by proroguing parliament, a decision the PM said wasn't "right".

House Speaker John Bercow summoned lawmakers back to parliament, which resumed amid rancorous scenes on Wednesday.

Speaking earlier from New York where he was attending the UN General Assembly, Johnson said he disagreed with but would respect the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The most important thing is we get on and deliver Brexit on October 31," he added, suggesting he could ask for another suspension which the ruling didn't ban.

"I do think there's a good case for getting on with a Queen's Speech anyway and we will do that," he said. He has flown back earlier than expected to attend the re-opened parliament.

Will the prime minister resign?

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson, leader of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats party all called for Johnson to resign on Tuesday.

The prime minister’s own words suggest that is not his intention. Boris Johnson was defiant and unapologetic as he addressed MPs upon his return from New York, goading the opposition to call a vote of no-confidence to bring about an election.

Tim Bale, professor of politics at the Queen Mary University of London, sees a resignation as "unlikely" and said that although a vote of no confidence — called by the opposition and which would trigger new elections if successful — is possible, opposition parties will instead hedge their bets.

"I suspect that opposition parties would prefer to keep him in place so they can take potshots at him, forcing him into requesting an extension. That would be the rational thing for them to do even if it might not be a constitutional thing for them to do," he said.

Could he try to suspend parliament again?

After the Supreme Court judgement, Boris Johnson suggested there could be an attempt to suspend parliament a second time, ahead of a Queen’s Speech to set out the government’s new plan.

The court ruling does not prevent such a scenario, as long as parliament is not stopped from doing its job without good cause. The government insists that bringing forward a Queen’s Speech is still the government’s aim.

However, such a move would involve asking the monarch for a suspension, and could provoke another court battle. But according to Tim Bale, "a second prorogation is unlikely because it would involve bringing the Queen so obviously into politics."

"I’m not sure either that cabinet and particularly the lawyers in the cabinet would support it," he added.

What will Johnson do about Brexit?

Boris Johnson says he remains determined to secure the UK’s exit from the EU at the end of October. However, the law passed earlier in September obliges him to seek another delay, unless a deal with the EU is struck or parliament agrees otherwise.

Ministers have said the government will adhere to the law but have hinted they may seek loopholes to get around it. The prime minister was blunt in the House of Commons on Wednesday. When asked whether he would request an extension to the Brexit deadline, he replied "no".

It is likely though that any attempt to get around the law would immediately provoke another legal challenge.

Since the law was passed, Johnson and his team have stepped up efforts to seek a new withdrawal deal with the EU. The ruling could well prompt a renewed drive in this direction.

However, despite what has been interpreted as a new willingness by London and Brussels to compromise, the gap between both sides still appears to be wide – and the clock is ticking fast towards an EU summit in mid-October and the Brexit deadline at the end of the month.

When are elections likely to happen?

The prime minister made it clear after the Supreme Court ruling that he wanted a general election, describing it as “the obvious thing to do” and accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of “talking out of the back of his head” in refusing to support it.

Opposition parties, backed by Conservative rebels, joined forces in refusing Johnson’s call earlier in September for an election until ensuring that a no-deal Brexit had been blocked.

On Wednesday, the prime minister urged MPs to call a vote of no-confidence in his government, to bring about an election.

"I think the people of this country have had enough," he said. "This parliament must either stand aside... or bring a vote of confidence and finally face a day of reckoning with the voters."

Although elections have not yet been formally tabled, every party has been in campaigning mode with a new ballot widely expected to take place before the end of the year.

Bookies have slashed odds on Johnson leaving office this year from 6/4 to 10/11. At the beginning of September, it stood at 7/2, according to Oddschecker, a betting aggregator.

"BoJo has lost his mojo, and the bookies are becoming increasingly confident the beleaguered PM will be out-of-office before 2019 is out," spokesperson Callum Wilson said in a statement.

Gamblers could also take a stab at when the next election might take place.

"October 2019 is now as short as 20/1 with some bookmakers. December 2019 still tops the market at the best price of 6/4," Oddschecker said.

How did we get here?

The Supreme Court ruling is just the latest in a series of defeats Johnson has had to endure since announcing in early September that Parliament would be prorogued for five weeks.

He argued at the time that a recess would allow him to outline his agenda in a Queen's Speech, scheduled for October 14, and that it had nothing to do with the country's exit from the European Union.

But opposition lawmakers and rebel Conservative MPs argued the prorogation was intended to muzzle them over Brexit and enable the new leader to take the country out of the bloc without an agreement on October 31.

They banded together to fast-track and pass legislation to prevent such a scenario and then rejected his calls for new elections twice, preferring to wait until their Withdrawal Agreement bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit had been granted Royal Assent.

Read more:

UK parliament resumes in furious mood after Supreme Court rules suspension unlawful

Why are opposition parties lagging behind Johnson's Tories?

Brexit Guide: Where are we now?

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