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Brexit comparisons with heroes and anti-heroes proliferate, but the real power lies with the courts

Supreme Court - Image credit: PA

Brexit comparisons with heroes and anti-heroes proliferate, but the real power lies with the courts

“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets. Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country.

“We will come out on October 31,” the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was quoted as saying in an interview with the Daily Mail, ignoring the fact that the UK is actually preventing itself from leaving the EU.

The comments were widely mocked. Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk in several films, said: “Boris Johnson forgets that the Hulk only fights for the good of the whole. Mad and strong can also be dense and destructive.

“The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team, and is a disaster when he is alone. Plus...he’s always got Dr Banner with science and reason.” 

European Parliament Brexit lead Guy Verhofstadt said: “Even to Trumpian standards, the Hulk comparison is infantile. Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed? Is this Boris Johnson whistling in the dark?”

And in parliament, Verhofstadt mocked the prorogation of the UK Parliament, noting that despite criticisms of the EU for being undemocratic, unlike Westminster, the European Parliament was sitting and neither Michel Barnier nor Jean-Claude Juncker could shut it down.

Calling for automatic registration of EU citizens in the UK, Verhofstadt suggested a different role model: Mrs Doubtfire, the caring nanny who would take care of EU citizens.

It may be easier to picture the latter than the former, but it’s a measure of where things are, Brexit-wise, that it’s descended into something like a party game.

Which film or TV character would you be and what would be your superpower?

But in real life, the key fight between higher powers has revolved around the courts and whether or not the UK Government stepped beyond its powers to prorogue parliament and whether the courts have the power to interfere.

Following judgments at the Court of Session in Edinburgh and the High Court in London that suspending parliament was a purely political decision that was not justiciable, few were expecting an appeal to overturn this decision, so there were gasps of surprise when three Scottish appeal judges ruled that Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament was unlawful, was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying parliament” and that the Prime Minister had lied to the Queen.

Both earlier cases were then escalated to the Supreme Court, which led to the confusing situation of the London court jointly hearing the UK Government appealing against the decision in Scots law that the prorogation was unlawful, and the appeal by campaigners against the decision in English law that it was not.

In an outspoken and biblically influenced submission, Aidan O’ Neill QC, the advocate acting for Joanna Cherry and 75 other MPs fighting to have the prorogation ruled unlawful, invoked angels, compared Boris Johnson to the devil, “the father of lies”, and urged the judges to stand up for democracy and not take the government submissions as “gospel”.

While tempers ran high about the reasons for prorogation, ultimately, the case will come down to whether or not the law allows the court to overturn the government decision or if it is a political issue for government and parliament to decide.

Supreme Court president, Lady Hale, said: “I must repeat that this case is not about when and on what terms the UK leaves the European Union. We are solely concerned with the lawfulness [of prorogation].”

But even if the court rules that the prorogation is unlawful, it is not certain whether it will mean the recall of parliament.

The UK Government has suggested there may be a number of outcomes:

If the court says that the reasons for prorogation were wrong in this case, but it’s not impossible to prorogue parliament, the government might suspend parliament again, giving a different reason.

If the court says it is unlawful for parliament to be prorogued any longer, a new Queen’s speech would need to be arranged to re-open it, and the court would need to decide whether it mandated the Prime Minister to ask for this or not, but either way, the UK Government suggests this would take time to arrange.

If the court concludes that prorogation never happened because the advice given to the Queen was wrong, the UK Government might attempt to prorogue parliament again rather than recalling it.

But what is certain is that it would mean yet another humiliation for Boris Johnson – and he has had plenty of those.

Last week, the prime minister of Luxembourg mocked him after he failed to turn up for a press conference due to fears over hecklers.

That saw Johnson dubbed the ‘Incredible Sulk’ by some – although the ‘Invisible Man’ might be more appropriate – and others to ask how he would negotiate a Brexit deal if he was unable to negotiate where to hold a press conference.

Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel gestured repeatedly to the empty lectern where Johnson was supposed to have been standing and let loose about the UK attempting to blame the EU for its difficulties in leaving.

Bettel said: “This Brexit is not my choice, it has been a decision from the [Conservative] Party. It was a decision from David Cameron to do it. They decide. They decide.

“I deeply regret it but don’t put the blame on us because now they don’t know how to get out of this… [dramatic pause] … ‘situation’ they put themselves in. It’s not my choice.”

While it is no secret, of course, how other EU members feel about the UK’s management of Brexit, from a French government minister naming her cat ‘Brexit’ because it can’t make up its mind whether it wants to go outside or be let back in again, to the frank comments of Guy Verhofstadt and his team in the behind-the-scenes BBC documentary shown earlier this year, this was an unprecedented level of mockery in a formal press conference – and from someone who is reputed to normally be moderate and friendly.

Johnson was further humiliated when he was confronted by the father of a sick baby in Whipps Cross University Hospital in London and accused of only doing the visit to gain media attention.

Johnson claimed that couldn’t be the reason as there was no press there – while the whole exchange took place in front of TV cameras.

These heightened feelings as 31 October approaches have led to further entrenchment and a realignment of party positions in the UK, too.

At her first national conference as party leader, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson announced that rather than pursue a second referendum with Remain as one of the options on the ballot paper, as the party had previously been calling for, instead, that the party would revoke Article 50 on its first day in power, should it win an election.

She said: “The first task is clear. We must stop Brexit. And we are crystal clear: a Liberal Democrat majority government will revoke Article 50 on day one. Because there is no Brexit that will be good for our country. Europe makes our United Kingdom stronger.”

It was quite a step, beyond being unequivocally pro-EU, to ignoring the stated wishes of the majority of the country in 2016 and taking the results of a future general election as more significant.

This led one commentator, Beth Rigby of Sky News, to suggest Swinson was becoming the “Nigel Farage of Remain”. Although at least Swinson didn’t turn up on stage in a leotard and announce she was Wonder Woman or She-Ra.

Labour, too, has repositioned itself, again, as the only party that would let the people decide on Brexit, with a firmer commitment to a referendum with Remain or a Labour Brexit deal as the two options.

But Jeremy Corbyn has still managed to confuse with the suggestion that he may stay neutral. Perhaps his superpower is equivocation.

The roll call of higher powers involved in pushing through or opposing Brexit has escalated quite dramatically in the past few weeks.

What began with a ‘rebel alliance’ of Jedi MPs opposing the Empire of the UK Government led by Darth Johnson, has been followed by comparisons from fictional superheroes to Satan himself.

There’s really fewer extreme appellations this can go to unless someone refers to themselves as the god of Brexit – but given the complete Brexit impasse, would even that ‘god’ be in charge or know what they were doing?

Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - First chair of the Scottish National Investment Bank appointed

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