If the UK Supreme Court decides that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament is legitimate then it sends a message to future politicians, says Ian Swanson.
DEPENDING on the decision of the judges sitting today in the UK’s Supreme Court, MPs could soon be heading back to Westminster to get on with their jobs.
It’s just over a week since parliament was controversially prorogued and Boris Johnson sent elected members back to their constituencies, no longer able to cause trouble for him in the Commons over Brexit.
But the very next day, three judges in Scotland’s highest court here in Edinburgh caused a surprise upset by ruling the suspension of parliament was “unlawful”.
The Court of Session backed the case brought by Edinburgh South West SNP MP Joanna Cherry and more than 70 other parliamentarians and said the Westminster prorogation was for “the improper purpose of stymieing parliament”.
The High Court in England had earlier thrown out a similar case brought by campaigner Gina Miller, saying prorogation was “political in nature” and not a legal matter.
But now it’s up to the Supreme Court to hear appeals on both judgements and make the final ruling.
If it comes down in support of the Scottish judges, Boris Johnson will have little option but to recall parliament, despite his hope he could keep MPs away from Westminster until October 14.
The Court of Session decision was quite explicit that Mr Johnson’s prorogation was to allow “the executive to pursue a policy of a no-deal Brexit without further parliamentary interference” and to “restrict parliament”.
The Prime Minister was unable to stop MPs passing a law requiring him to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline if there is no deal by October 19 – even though he has hinted he will try to get round the law or possibly simply defy it.
But reconvening the Commons would allow opposition politicians new opportunities to try to influence what is happening.
If the Supreme Court goes the other way and rules it is not for the courts to intervene, Mr Johnson gets a boost. It obviously would not reverse the law designed to stop a no-deal exit on October 31, but would allow him to continue on his course without parliamentary scrutiny for a full five weeks and more.
However, either outcome could prove positive for the SNP. If the prorogation of parliament is lifted, the Nationalists – and the other opposition parties – get the chance to make life difficult for Mr Johnson.
But if the Supreme Court overturns the Scottish judges’ ruling, that is likely to fuel the feeling of a fundamental divide between Scotland and England and play into the independence agenda.
Gina Miller’s victory in 2017, when the Supreme Court ruled the UK Government could not invoke Article 50 – the trigger for leaving the EU – without parliament having its say, was a landmark judgement which paved the way for much of what has happened at Westminster since.
The ruling from today’s Supreme Court hearing could also have long-lasting implications whichever way it goes.
Either it will establish the rights of parliament to do its democratic job, holding the government to account, without interference from the executive.
Or it will send a signal to future prime ministers that they can suspend parliament at their whim for their own ends – and potentially undermine the future of the UK into the bargain.