The Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s prorogation: what happens next?


On the final day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Jeremy Corbyn invited Boris Johnson to become the “shortest-serving Prime Minister there’s ever been.” This is not the first time a Labour Party leader has called for the resignation of their Conservative counterpart – it is not even the first time Jeremy Corbyn has called for Johnson’s resignation. However, what makes this demand unique is that it followed a historic ruling from the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled unanimously that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful “because it had the effect of frustrating… the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.” Having made this decision, the Court deemed the prorogation “null and void”.

This is the point where people start messaging their nerdy political friends because what on earth will happen next? Is Johnson gone? Is Brexit over? Is that the Soviet National Anthem playing on the TV as Corbyn makes his post-revolutionary address? Probably not, seems to be the answer to those questions, but that’s not to say that things haven’t changed. Despite hyperbole being an instantiated part of political journalism nowadays, the ruling being described as “historic” is spot on. 

Apart from the logistical changes, it’s very difficult to say what the effects of the verdict will be on issues like Brexit. What we do know is that Parliament will resume, Johnson doesn’t seem to be resigning, and the Government’s position is still that Brexit will happen on the 31st of October as promised.

At times like these, politicians clamber to make their position known above the clamour of their peers. Corbyn and Swinson both consider themselves to be PMs-in-waiting – but that’s hardly news. Johnson, however, made the following noteworthy statements: “I strongly disagree with what the justices have found. I don’t think that it is right but we will go ahead and of course Parliament will come back”, “I do think there is a good case for getting on with a Queen’s speech anyway.”, and “I think the most important thing is that we… deliver Brexit on October the 31st.” From those statements, Johnson appears to intend on sticking around, having a Queen’s Speech, and delivering on his promise of a Halloween Brexit.

Johnson also said that “as the law currently stands the UK leaves the EU on October the 31st come what may,” and technically he’s right. Assuming that 10% of the Conservative MPs don’t force another leadership contest, this is what could happen:

Parliament passes a motion of no confidence in the Government, and to do this Parliament needs a simple majority. If the Government loses then one of three things could occur: a new government forms from the existing MPs and secures confidence within 14 days of the initial vote, a General Election, or the old government continues if they win back confidence again within 14 days.

Alternatively, Johnson could secure a deal that parliament approves before the leave date. After the verdict was passed, he said that it would make securing a deal harder. This is probably because the Benn Act essentially opens negotiations up to the public through mandated reports to Parliament. Perhaps he will secure a deal, but at this state, especially given the nullification of the prorogation, this seems further away than ever.

A third option is that Johnson exploits a loophole in the Benn Act and forces a no-deal Brexit. The Benn Act says that the PM must ask the European Council for an extension to article 50 unless the House of Commons approves and the House of Lords has had a chance to debate either a withdrawal agreement or a statement that the UK is to leave the EU without an agreement.  Some have argued that he could find a deal that the fits the above criteria removing his obligation to ask for an extension. After this it would then be a case of running down the clock as the bill doesn’t require the government to enforce such a deal.

Finally, Johnson could ask for and be granted an extension on the leave date. He has previously said that “under no circumstance” would he ask for another extension. However, he could succumb to pressure and end up breaking his promise.

These are four possible short-term outcomes but they are by no means the only routes this crisis could take.

The following days might not provide much clarity, but this ruling will have impact and it is definitely worth understanding. The judgment is publicly available on the Supreme Court website.

Image by Garry Knight via flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.