MPs to take UK Government to court over power to suspend parliament ahead of Brexit
Westminster - Image credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
A cross-party group of MPs is to take the UK Government to court in Scotland in an attempt to prevent the next prime minister shutting down in the run up to Brexit day on 31 October.
The MPs have written to the Advocate General for Scotland Lord Keen, the UK Government’s legal adviser on Scots law, that they intend to sue the Government to prevent it proroguing – or suspending – parliament to prevent MPs standing in the way of a no-deal Brexit – something that Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson has not ruled out.
The cross-party group is made up of SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Green and independent MPs, including SNP MP Joanna Cherry, newly elected Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Labour MP Ian Murray, as well as lawyer Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project, which is backing the action.
Maugham also led the earlier court case brought by a group MPs, MSPs and MEPs, including Cherry and Green MSP Andy Wightman that ruled that parliament could unilaterally reverse Article 50.
The new action will be brought before the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, which sits through August, and is for a ‘declarator’ that the prime minister cannot lawfully advise the Queen to suspend parliament.
The Queen has the power to suspend parliament on the advice of a member of the privy council, something that is routinely done between sessions.
However, the group wants to the court to rule that it is unlawful and beyond the powers of the government to do this for constitutional reasons and that it undermines the principle of separation of powers between parliament, government and the justiciary.
The case will be argued on two grounds: that proroguing parliament undermines the government’s political accountability to parliament and legal accountability to the courts, and that it frustrates the will of the parliament expressed within the EU Withdrawal Act.
The costs of the court case will be raised through crowd funding.
Cherry said: “The Tories have steadfastly ignored the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s voters and parliament to stay in the EU.
“Now we face a no deal Brexit with potentially catastrophic damage to Scotland’s economy, society and culture.
“It is unconscionable that the incoming PM should simply do away with the Westminster parliament in order to fulfil this slow-motion car crash.
“Therefore, we must take all steps we can to prevent prorogation.”
Murray said: “Taking back control surely didn’t mean shutting down parliament.
“This exposes yet another vacuous lie of the Leave campaign.
“Boris Johnson’s dangerous and reckless proposal to shut parliament down is undemocratic and simply cannot go unchallenged.
“A cross-party group of Scottish parliamentarians have already established that the UK can revoke Article 50, and now there is a fresh cross-party bid to once again stand up for the people of Britain.
“The future of the country is at stake, and working together across parties in the best interests of the people of the entire UK has never been more important.”
Swinson added: “Liberal Democrats will do everything we possibly can to stop the next Tory prime minister from crashing the UK out of the EU.
“That is why I am adding my name as a petitioner to this important case.
“Proroguing parliament so as to crash the UK out without a deal would be catastrophic for our NHS, jobs, and our environment.
“Even entertaining the idea is reckless and demonstrates the degree to which Boris Johnson will always put his own career ahead of the future of our country.
“Liberal Democrats will continue to work cross-party to stop Brexit.
“This legal challenge is one of the many ways in which we will fight to ensure that the Tory government do not ride roughshod over our Parliament and democracy.”
Maugham explained the constitutional issue.
He said: “If the prime minister asks the Queen to suspend parliament she faces an impossible choice.
“Either she ignores his advice and breaks with convention or she dismisses parliament so the prime minister can use her prerogative to force through No Deal.
“Both options explode the notion of the UK as a modern, functioning democracy.
“We will ask the courts to assist Her Majesty by ruling on that choice.”