Campaigners in court bid to make Johnson obey Brexit law

The British prime minister has frequently implied he would ignore Parliament's ruling to seek a Brexit delay.

by
    Joanna Cherry QC, a senior lawyer as well as an MP, led the legal campaign against the suspension of Parliament, and is now spearheading the 'nob-off' action in Scotland [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
    Joanna Cherry QC, a senior lawyer as well as an MP, led the legal campaign against the suspension of Parliament, and is now spearheading the 'nob-off' action in Scotland [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

    Glasgow, United Kingdom - Campaigners opposed to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union will take to a Scottish court on Friday to compel Prime Minister Boris Johnson to comply with the will of Parliament.

    In September, Conservative rebels and opposition members of the House of Commons united to force the Conservative government to ask for a three-month extension to its scheduled EU departure date of October 31 if no European exit deal had won parliamentary approval by October 19.

    Johnson has famously said that he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask the EU for a delay to Brexit, which was endorsed by 52 percent of the UK electorate in a 2016 referendum. But pro-EU voices are asking a judge sitting in an Edinburgh court to issue an interdict - or injunction - that would block the prime minister from ignoring the parliamentary order.

    Many MPs, economists, healthcare administrators and other experts argue that a no-deal withdrawal from the bloc could be ruinous to the four-part island state.

    "That we can anticipate law-breaking by our prime minister is incredible," said Dale Vince, a multimillionaire environmentalist who is funding the legal challenge. Johnson has frequently stated he intends to press ahead with Brexit, deal or no deal, on October 31 - regardless of the law passed by Parliament and endorsed by Queen Elizabeth II.

    "There is a remedy to that through the courts, which is an injunction to prevent that law-breaking from taking place," Vince told Al Jazeera.

    'The judicialisation of politics'

    Running in tandem with this challenge is the so-called nobile officium - or "nob-off" - action, which will see campaigners, including the formidable Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry, ask the court in Scotland to write to the EU requesting the extension on Johnson's behalf in the event that he refuses.

    Nobile Officium, as a legal remedy, does not exist in the courts of England and Wales. But Scotland, with its separate and distinct legal system, could deliver another legal blow to a prime minister already reeling from last month's Supreme Court verdict.

    On September 24, the UK's highest court declared that Johnson's suspension - or prorogation - of Parliament, which he put into action two weeks earlier, was unlawful, upholding the decision of three appeal judges in Scotland.

    James Mitchell, a public policy professor at the University of Edinburgh, told Al Jazeera that this latest court action surrounding Brexit "is the continuing process of the judicialisation of politics".

    "It is not uncommon for the law and courts to intervene but this is unprecedented in its scope and political magnitude," he said of the UK's ongoing Brexit travails.

    190924130907947

    "The courts have had no option but to address matters brought before them [but], one suspects, the judiciary would prefer that these had been dealt with through the political process."

    Yet Brexit advocates remain unamused. Scotsman Tom Walker voted to leave in 2016 and is scathing of the actions of pro-EU figures such as Cherry who led the legal challenge to prorogation, and is again involved in this latest court action.

    "The conduct of the 'remain' cabal is not surprising given their admiration of the [EU]," he told Al Jazeera. "The current Parliament is a Parliament against the people and the reason that they are refusing a general election is that they know this to be true."

    He was echoing language used by Johnson, who appears to be setting up a "people-vs-Parliament" narrative before an inevitable election. Opposition parties have blocked the prime minister's attempts to hold a snap election before a Brexit extension is secured, distrustful that Johnson would not attempt some chicanery to avoid going to the EU to beg for a delay.

    A judgement on Friday's court hearing looks set to be delivered on Monday, with a Scottish appeal scheduled to be heard shortly thereafter - when the nobile officium action will likely be addressed. Another date with the Supreme Court could also be in the offing.

    Vince, who describes the prime minister as "impervious", says "Johnson is playing to the court of public opinion" as he readies himself for yet another legal fight.

    But regardless of the outcome, Mitchell states "the key issue is whether or for how long his Conservative colleagues are prepared to go along with Johnson and this style of government."

    "To a very large extent, the pressure that will prove most important will be that which might come from within the Conservative Party."

    Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News