The UK Supreme Court ruled this morning in a unanimous decision that Johnson's suspension of parliament was unlawful.
The court decided that while suspensions are normal, the length was not.
In response Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP MP Joanna Cherry, and Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts all called on Johnson to resign.
The tabloids are all over this of course.
The Guardian Live Blog has good coverage and embedded Q&A.
Lie to the Queen?
The supreme court did not accept the government’s claim that prorogation had nothing to do with limiting the ability of MPs to scrutinise Brexit. But it did not accuse him of lying to the Queen.
Parliament Called Back
Labour whips are telling MPs to prepare for a return to parliament on Wednesday. At the parliamentary Labour party office at Labour’s annual conference whips, including Thangam Debbonaire, are telling MPs that they may be back in the house within hours. Liz McInnes, the shadow Foreign Office minister, said: “The present mood is that we will try and rearrange something for tomorrow.”
Can Johnson be Impeached?
A reader asked Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian if Johnson can be impeached. Sparrow replied " Almost certainly not. As a process impeachment is now considered obsolete."
Can Boris Johnson Prorogue Again?
The court judgment has not taken away the PM’s power to prorogue parliament, but it has curtailed it. Boris Johnson could not try to prorogue parliament again for a lengthy period without effectively being in contempt of court. It is also possible that, faced with such a transparently illegal request, the Queen could say no – or at least threaten to (although this would involve the crown getting involved in politics in a way that has not happened for a century or more). But the judgment does allow a normal prorogation – one, at this time of year, that would last a few days ahead of a Queen’s speech.
Boris Johnson signals he wants fresh prorogation ahead of Queen's speech
Boris Johnson is in New York. He will return and may even seek a fresh prorogation albeit a much shorter one.
Asked if he was running out of options, he said “on the contrary”. He replied
As the law currently stands the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, come what may. But the interesting thing, the exciting thing for us now, is to get a good deal. And that’s what we’re working on. I’ll be honest with you, it’s not made much easier by this kind of stuff in parliament, or in the courts. Obviously getting a deal is not made much easier against this background. But we’re going to get on and do it.
Motion of No-Confidence Coming Up?
Sparrow fielded the question "Isn’t a no-confidence vote now inevitable?"
No. Only the leader of the opposition can table a no confidence motion that has to be put to a vote, but other opposition parties, independent MPs and rebel Tories would only vote for one if they knew it would lead to a new government led by a PM they would find acceptable. The Lib Dems don’t want to make Jeremy Corbyn PM, and there is no support at the moment for anyone else to lead an interim government.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, there would be 14 days after a vote of no confidence to allow time for another government to win a confidence vote. During that period Johnson would remain as PM. Assuming no other PM emerged, after 9 October parliament would be dissolved pending an election. Under electoral law there would have to be 25 working days before polling day which would mean an election in November.
Theoretically the Benn Act means that, if the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, Boris Johnson would have to request an extension. But Johnson has signalled that he wants to find a way around this, and even if he puts in a request, it is not certain that the EU will say yes.
Why Hasn’t Boris Johnson Resigned Already?
It is not that unusual for the courts to decide that ministers have acted unlawfully – under judicial review, it happens all the time – but it is rare to read a court judgment as damning as today’s. You are right to say that some ministers have resigned over matters that are far more trivial. But ministers go when they have lost the confidence of the prime minister. The PM only goes if he or she loses the confidence of the electorate (in a general election), their party or the House of Commons. Tory MPs still support Johnson (and, even if they didn’t, the 1922 Committee quietly agreed a new rule recently ruling out a leadership challenge until Johnson has been in post for a year).
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, reportedly believes that if the courts find against the government in cases like this, that only boosts the opportunities for Johnson to campaign on a pro-Brexit “people v the establishment” platform - with the establishment being parliament and the courts.
Farage Blasts Cummings
Eurointelligence Comments Before Ruling
The whole UK media is gearing up for the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning. But, important as the ruling on prorogation may be in the discussion about the future of the British constitution, it is unlikely to have much of a direct impact on Brexit itself - just like prorogation itself. Prorogation did not stop the Benn extension legislation from passing in record time. And, even if the Supreme Court were to rule in favour of the government, parliament will still have time to ratify a withdrawal agreement, or launch a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister, before Brexit. We cannot think of a single Brexit outcome that is critically influenced by procedural and legal arguments.
What is harder to ascertain is the indirect political effect. If the Court were to rule that the prime minister lied to the Queen, there would be calls for his resignation. There might be further Tory MPs ready to desert a sinking ship. A vote of no-confidence could ensue. There are many other scenarios. One scenario is that the Court rules against the government, the MPs return, and Johnson prorogues again.
The court did not rule Johnson lied to the Queen but calls for resignation mounted anyway.
And note the irony. Parliament has it in its power to remove Johnson if it wants to.
So do it.
They won't because there is no support for Corbyn.
We agree with the observation made by Andrew Duff yesterday that it probably does not matter a great deal whether Labour will campaign for Remain. More important is whether Corbyn will allow a free vote on a withdrawal deal. If a withdrawal agreement were to squeeze through parliament with the help of pro-Brexit Labour MPs, that would be it for the Brexit saga. There would be no majority in the parliament to subject the deal to a second referendum. If that happened, both the LibDems and the Labour Remainers would of all a sudden find themselves with no policy. A second referendum makes no sense after the UK has left the EU. A campaign to re-enter will take many years.
That could easily happen.
In one fell swoop, Corbyn would kill both the Brexit Party's and the Liberal Democrats' reason for being.
But would that necessarily solve anything?
Another possible scenario is continued parliamentary stalemate. One indirect effect of Labour's decision yesterday is that it might inadvertently delay an election even after an extension is granted. The extension would be at most for three months. The same argument that stopped the general election in October will still hold then. Remainer MPs have no interest in an election they are unlikely to win. Even if Corbyn wins, the result would be seen as an endorsement of his own eurosceptic position. But we are not sure that the Remainers will be able to mount a united opposition to elections this time. The LibDems and the SNP want elections, and so does Corbyn. A November or December election remains our central scenario. But we also think that there is a possibility that Brexit might be settled beforehand.
The Liberal Democrats need an election before the Brexit issue is solved. They should back a motion of No Confidence. And that motion would only take 50%.
Curiously, however, there is likely insufficient votes to oust Johnson even though the opposition is allegedly united against him.
- Prorogation and the Benn emergency legislation have both been superseded by other political events.
- Johnson likely has a solid, legal way around Benn, if he wants to use it. It's possible he won't.
- There is no guarantee the EU would honor an extension.
- Labour and the Liberal Democrats are hopelessly split.
- The opposition can remove Johnson but there is insufficient support to name anyone else, including Jeremy Corbyn.
So, What's Changed?
Arguably little. Johnson won't resign. There was no ruling that he lied to the Queen.
Parliament will be back in session earlier and can thus make more mischief, but Speaker John Bercow would likely have been able to rush through fake "emergency" legislation anyway.
The process might even look look political and backfire. It's hard to say without seeing the legislation.
Since Johnson won't resign, the main thing I can come up with is that Corbyn supposedly gave a great speech today. It's possible to see shift in public opinion as a result.
If Corbyn cannot get a bounce out of this, he will be even deeper in trouble.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock