Today comes word that the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court has ruled Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament unconstitutional. I thought only our Supreme Court was able to act in such a blatantly high-handed fashion. Here at the Spectator and here at Spectator USA, however, Richard Ekins anticipated this result a few days ago:
Who runs Britain? When Boris Johnson’s lawyers made their case in front of the Supreme Court this week, defending his right to prorogue parliament, they in effect brought it back to this simple question. This was a controversy for politicians to settle, not courts. Judges, they said, should think twice about ‘entering the political arena’ and unsettling the UK’s ‘careful constitutional and political balance’. He may be the first prime minister to frame the matter so starkly, but no previous prime minister has had to. This is about far more than Brexit. Britain is witnessing political litigation on a hitherto unseen scale.
We have a government that has lost a working majority and is being forced by legislation to act against its own central policy. We have a House of Commons that nonetheless refuses to withdraw confidence in the government or allow a general election. We have the Queen who, in Balmoral a few weeks before, granted through her privy council an order to prorogue parliament: a politically controversial decision but in one way a standard procedure. And we have a great many lawyers now seeking to reverse that prorogation by court order.
In the recent past, it would have been laughable to think this could be secured through the courts. But as we have seen, anything is possible — which is why the Supreme Court has this week been asked to consider whether the prime minister acted lawfully when he advised the Queen to prorogue parliament. This is what makes it, in effect, a question about who governs. It’s a question that involves almost all the working parts of the UK’s unwritten constitution. It cuts to the heart of how our democracy functions, with relationships between crown, government and parliament all in the spotlight, not to mention differences between Scottish and English courts. It is the constitutional equivalent of a perfect storm.
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