London was under the dying throes of Hurricane Humberto when the Supreme Court rose. The wind and rain almost broke the TV feed, distorting the crisp, certain voice of Lady Hale to that of a Dalek.
It was fitting in its way. She spoke for 11 electrifying minutes but three words would have done. Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.
Game. Set. Match. Caught. Bowled. The Chequered Flag. The White Flag. The Towel. The Lot.
On every single aspect, in every single way, the government was defenestrated with explosive force. It had been a unanimous verdict. All 11 Supreme Court judges were in agreement. No one expected that. And in every single element of the case, the government had been found entirely wanting.
Three specific slam dunks punctuated the judgment, and each spread to fill a bizarre blast radius. The prime minister is in New York. Most of the rest of British politics is in Brighton for the annual sacramental chanting at the Cult of Corbyn.
The technical issues had been resolved by the time the first one came. Even if they had not, visual clues of where Lady Hale might be heading were available.
The subject of her ladyship’s penchant for elaborate brooches has been noted before in legal circles. Her “12 best” have even been the subject of a recent blog post on a law website.
It intimates that this morning’s selection, which does not feature, had been purchased especially for the occasion – a giant sparkling black widow spider. It is one of many arachnids in which the function of the man in the circle of life is to be eaten alive by the woman.
As Kipling noted, the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
“The first question is whether the lawfulness of the prime minister’s advice to Her Majesty is justiciable,” Lady Hale paused. “This court holds that it is.”
If the Brighton Centre had gasped in any more perfect unison it would have sucked the sea through its own front door.
Was this whole prorogation thing actually any of the court’s business? Wasn’t it just up to the government? That was the first question the court has been to asked to consider. It had made its decision. Supreme court 1. Government 0.
She carried on.
“This was not a normal prorogation ... No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court.”
More deep breaths.
“The court is bound to conclude that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
Jaws dropped. Eyes widened. The TV pictures were crisp and immaculate now. Had Humberto himself stopped to listen in?
On she went. “This means that the Order in Council to which it led was also unlawful, void and of no effect and should be quashed. This means that when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices.”
The ocean went out again. At time of writing, it was far beyond the horizon. Its spokesperson cannot be reached for comment. It is not expected to return.
In the conference hall, Jeremy Corbyn rushed on to the stage. He reached for his usual staccato, to exalt somebody else’s triumph.
“This demonstrates a contempt for democracy and an abuse of power by Boris Johnson,” he thundered, standing in the exact same spot where his own party has shown contempt for its own democracy 15 hours before.
“And I invite Boris Johnson to consider his position!”
The crowd went wild. As it happens, outside the Supreme Court the SNP MP Joanna Cherry was addressing the media. It was her who had brought the ultimately victorious case. The response of the Labour Party, Her Majesty’s Opposition no less, had been to share some #OccupyParliament hashtags on Twitter and stage a late-night sit in in the House of Commons.
All this as dawn broke over Manhattan. In his wilderness years, between winning the EU referendum and accidentally bringing down his own government, Dominic Cummings used to write lengthy blogs about “alternative branches of histories”. It’s not your fault if things go wrong, there are other, imagined worlds where things went right. It’s just that, the branches are really very long now, the distance between them very wide indeed. The happy place is far, far away
Meanwhile, John Bercow strode out on to College Green in front of the House of Commons.
“I have instructed the house authorities to prepare not for the recall – the prorogation was unlawful and is void – but to prepare for the resumption of the business of the House of Commons,” he said.
“The House of Commons sits tomorrow at 11.30am.”
Eventually, Johnson emerged, to stand on a Manhattan balcony and, even at this impossible hour, lie, lie and lie again.
“I disagree with this judgment in the strongest possible way.
“We need to have a Queen’s Speech, that’s what we want to do,” he said, his hair blowing in the breeze, his face, as ever, unable to fully de-smirk itself.
“But there are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit.”
So it’s not about Brexit. But it is about Brexit. It was always about Brexit, prime minister. You know it, we know it, the Supreme Court certainly knows it. Now, even the Queen knows it.
And so, with his final flourish, Corbyn brought his leader’s speech forward by a day. His deputy leader, Tom Watson, the man whose job he had tried to abolish three days previously, was bumped for the purpose.
A fittingly premature end to a conference that should have been aborted before it began.
It had been a triumphant morning for the cause of truth and justice.
Yet there remains simply no occasion which the Labour leadership will not attempt to drag down to its own level.
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