Let me lay some cards on the table. I was very surprised when the Supreme Court ruled as it did this week. Although we should perhaps have detected the writing on the wall in the prevailing lines of questioning from the justices during the hearing, I felt – and I was not alone – that the judgment of the English High Court would be upheld, to the effect that a prime minister’s decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was essentially a political step and not the business of the courts.
As we know, the 11 judges ruled, first, that it was absolutely the business of the courts and, second, that the prorogation had the effect of sidelining parliament at a time of national crisis, which was unlawful. They declared that Boris Johnson was therefore in the wrong and that the order suspending parliament was to be treated as a “blank piece of paper”. Parliament had never been prorogued, Lady Hale, the court president, said with emphasis. MPs were back on their benches the next day, and proceedings resumed.
The ruling has variously been interpreted as an epoch-making change in the balance of constitutional power as it has existed for centuries, a one-off with no further ramifications (because of the exceptional circumstances and the limits set out in the ruling), and/or part of a massive fightback by the Establishment against a people’s vote to leave the European Union. First it was the MPs who tried to sabotage the referendum result, now it is nothing less than the Supreme Court.
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