Legal bid begins to block Johnson’s prorogation plan

Court hearings get under way on Tuesday as campaigners seek to block suspension of parliament.

Anti-Brexit protest - reuters
Johnson's plan to suspend parliament sparked protests in towns across Britain at the weekend [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

Glasgow, Scotland  A group of UK politicians will on Tuesday begin legal proceedings in Scotland’s highest court in a bid to overturn British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s planned suspension of parliament.

Last week, Johnson announced he would prorogue parliament just days after MPs return to work from their summer break.

Proroguing – or suspending – parliament for a few days or a week for a party’s annual conferences is standard practice before the Queen’s Speech, when the British monarch sets out her government’s forthcoming legislative agenda.

But critics have accused Johnson of exploiting this annual convention – which would see the parliament shuttered for five weeks until the middle of next month – to force through a “no-deal” Brexit, or Britain leaving the European Union without a formal agreement by the October 31 departure date.

“Shutting down parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit – which will do untold and lasting damage to the country against the wishes of MPs – is not democracy, it’s dictatorship,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s anti-Brexit first minister, and leader of the pro-independence Scottish government in Edinburgh, immediately after Johnson’s move.

Is a no-deal Brexit inevitable?

A cross-party group of about 75 politicians had already planned a full hearing in Edinburgh’s Court of Session for September 6 as a pre-emptive measure before the Conservative Party leader’s announcement.

But following his decision, which he has denied is an attempt to railroad through a no-deal Brexit, a Scottish judge declared the full hearing should be brought forward. He dismissed calls to first order a temporary halt to Johnson’s prorogation plan.

‘Window of opportunity’

Paul Sweeney, a Labour MP and one of the 75 signatories to the court petition, said this was “one of the most critical weeks in the history of British politics” as he and his colleagues attempt to use legal recourse to reverse the prime minister’s controversial proclamation.

“We have a very limited window of opportunity to get this right and prevent a no-deal Brexit,” the Glasgow-elected politician told Al Jazeera.

A legal remedy was now needed more than ever because “the [British] government had failed to rule out a no-deal Brexit” and was “potentially using anti-democratic devices to stage a coup against parliament by proroguing it”, he added.

In England, anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller filed an urgent application for a judicial review following Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament, while a similar legal challenge was also lodged in Northern Ireland.

But the 75 petitioners initially launched their own bid for a preventative legal motion against suspension in the Scottish court earlier this summer because England’s equivalent court was then on recess. On Tuesday, their lawyers will finally present their case.

‘Sneaky means’

Johnson’s plan to suspend UK Parliament sparks anger

Despite Scotland voting by 62-38 percent in the 2016 in/out referendum to reject the UK leaving the EU, not every Scot is behind this potentially explosive legal challenge.

Scottish businessman and anti-EU campaigner Tom Walker voted to leave the European bloc three years ago, throwing his weight behind the Brexit-supporting majorities in England and Wales.

He told Al Jazeera “it would be a dangerous precedent for the judiciary to get involved with political disagreements”.

“I do not believe that [this] week’s hearing will result in an overturning of the action by the government to prorogue parliament,” said Walker.

“[It] is not important. It will just be another attempt by the establishment elite to use sneaky means to ignore the largest ever democratic vote which does not suit them.”

As parliamentarians return to work this week, with their own ideas of promoting or preventing the prorogation, all eyes will be on Scotland where Britain’s future hinges, for now at least, on the actions of a judge – not a politician.

Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi

Source: Al Jazeera