London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s motive for proroguing the Commons for five weeks was to avoid the risk of MPs “frustrating or damaging” his Brexit plans and “to silence Parliament for that period”, the Supreme Court heard on Tuesday.
The country’s highest judicial body were hearing appeals from two separate challenges brought in England and Scotland to the prorogation of Parliament in London.
Johnson’s extended suspension of debate was carried out for an “improper purpose” in order to “avoid the risk of Parliament undermining the policies of his executive”, said Lord Pannick QC, who was representing the businesswoman and legal campaigner Gina Miller.
Before the arguments formally began in central London, Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, stressed the landmark case would have no bearing on the timing of Brexit, the BBC reported.
In her opening statement, the most senior judge in the UK said that she and her 10 colleagues would endeavour to address the “serious and difficult questions of law” raised by the case.
But she said the court would not determine “wider political questions” relating to the Brexit process and its ruling would have no bearing on “when and how the UK leaves the EU”.
As the hearing went underway, some 40 protesters, holding signs reading “Defend democracy”, “Reopen Parliament”, “They misled the Queen”, gathered outside the top court.
Over the next three days, the 11 judges of the Supreme Court will consider the two legal challenges over whether Johnson acted lawfully in advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament.
Johnson maintains it was right and proper to terminate the last session of Parliament in order to pave the way for a Queen’s Speech on October 14, in which his new government will outline its legislative plans for the year ahead.
He insisted the move had nothing to do with Brexit and his pledge to take the UK out of the EU on October 31, if necessary without a deal.
In his written submission to the court, Pannick wrote: “The Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for a period of five weeks is an unlawful abuse of power.
“The Prime Minister’s reasons for advising on a five-week prorogation were improper in that they were infected by factors inconsistent with the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, in particular his belief that Parliament does nothing of value at this time of year and his concern that Parliament might take steps which would undermine the government’s negotiating position with the EU.
Last week, Edinburgh’s Court of Session found in favour of a cross-party group of politicians challenging Johnson’s move, ruling the shutdown was unlawful and “of no effect”.
Scotland’s highest civil court found Johnson’s actions were motivated by the “improper purpose of stymieing Parliament” from properly scrutinizing the government’s Brexit plans in the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders on October 17.
It found that Johnson had effectively misled the Queen in the sovereign’s exercise of prerogative powers.
But, in a separate case, London’s High Court rejected a challenge brought by Gina Miller, ruling that the suspension of Parliament was a “purely political” move and was therefore “not a matter for the courts”.
The government is now appealing against the ruling in Scotland, while Miller is appealing against the High Court judgement.