Sat | Aug 8, 2020

UK top court aims to rule next week on Parliament shutdown

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2019 | 11:58 AM
Pro-democracy demonstrators protest outside the Supreme Court in London, Thursday, September 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused by one of the country’s former leaders of obstructing Parliament by shutting down the legislature for five weeks, as a landmark Brexit case at the U.K. Supreme Court came to a head on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the European Union and Britain announced new talks on an elusive divorce deal, even as they squabbled over whether or not the U.K. had brought any new ideas to the table.

The U.K.’s top court must decide whether Johnson broke the law by sending lawmakers home just weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on October 31.

At the end of a three-day hearing the court’s president, Brenda Hale said the 11 judges would give their ruling early next week.

Opponents of the government claim Johnson shut Parliament until October 14 to prevent lawmakers scrutinising his plan to take Britain out of the EU at the end of next month, with or without a divorce deal.

They also accuse the prime minister of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.

“The remedy that we seek is a declaration that the prime minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful,” said David Pannick, lawyer for one of the campaigners challenging the government.

The challengers are being backed by John Major, who was Britain’s prime minister between 1990 and 1997 — and, like Johnson, is a Conservative.

Major’s lawyer, Edward Garnier, told the court that it was an “inescapable” conclusion that Johnson had shut down the legislature to stop lawmakers blocking his Brexit plans.

A written submission on behalf of Major said Johnson had failed to provide a sworn statement explaining the reasons for suspending Parliament, and argued that “his failure or refusal to do so is conspicuous.”

Major said the inescapable conclusion was that “the decision was in fact substantially motivated by a desire to obstruct Parliament from interfering with the prime minister’s plans.”

The government says the suspension is routine and not motivated by Brexit, and argues that judges should not interfere in political decisions for fear of upsetting the constitutional balance of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary.

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