The UK Supreme Court spent three days listening to testimony about the lawfulness of Boris Johnson ’s suspension of Parliament. The judges’ questions targeted not whether the prime minister’s move to prorogue the legislature was incorrect, but what they could do about it if it was.
Their verdict, due early next week, is solely focused on Johnson’s five-week suspension of Parliament but could have wider repercussions if it cuts his options as his Oct. 31 Brexit deadline approaches. The court could venture into new areas, forcing him to recall Parliament. That would allow politicians to return with momentum to stop him.
“He has room for maneuver, but I suspect that if he asks for another prorogation there will be another lawsuit,” said Tom Mullen, a professor in constitutional law at the University of Glasgow.
Before Johnson suspended lawmakers this month, he lost control of the agenda in Parliament and failed to get the necessary majority to call for a fresh election. Lawmakers also passed a law saying he can’t leave the European Union without a deal by Halloween. Having staked his reputation on leaving by that date with or without a deal, Johnson couldn’t be in a tighter spot.
The Supreme Court case is the result of lower-court challenges in England and Scotland, which argued Johnson’s reason for suspending Parliament was to remove its ability to scrutinize. While the English court said it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the political question, the Scottish court found Johnson was trying to stymie the legislature and Parliament should be recalled.
“The entire strategy from day one has been to make it as difficult as possible for the courts to get into it,” said Shubhankar Dam, a public law professor at the University of Portsmouth. “If it really gets into the whole business of ordering when or when not parliament should be sitting, that’s a whole new territory for the court.”
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