Former UK PM Major slams Johnson over parliament suspension

Former UK PM Major slams Johnson over parliament suspension

Former British Prime Minister John Major at Westminster Abbey in central London on Sep 10, 2019
Former British Prime Minister John Major at Westminster Abbey in central London on Sep 10, 2019. (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/POOL/AFP)

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's reasons for suspending parliament in the final weeks before Brexit "cannot be true", a lawyer for former premier John Major told the Supreme Court on Thursday (Sep 19).

Major, who is from Johnson's Conservative party, believes the prime minister was acting entirely in his own political interests to avoid scrutiny by MPs as Brexit comes to the crunch, with Britain due to leave the EU on Oct 31, the lawyer said.

The Supreme Court is hearing the last of three days of highly-charged arguments over whether Johnson's advice to Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue, or suspend, parliament for five weeks until Oct 14 was lawful.

Johnson, who took office in July, insists it was a routine move to allow his government to launch a new legislative programme next month.

But it sparked legal action accusing him of trying to silence MPs, who oppose his threat of leaving the EU next month with no deal.

In a dramatic attack by one former Conservative leader on another, Major alleged "the reasons set out in the documents put before the court by the prime minister cannot be true," his lawyer Edward Garnier said.

Major, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997, questioned why Johnson would not explain his motivations in writing.

"The only conceivable explanation is that the true reasons, if disclosed, would be adverse to his case," Garnier said in a written submission.

'INESCAPABLE' CONCLUSION

Major believes it is "inescapable" that Johnson's decision was motivated "by his political interest in ensuring that there was no activity in parliament" ahead of a crucial EU summit on Oct 17-18.

The lawyer added: "It would be very straightforward for the prime minister or a senior official to sign a witness statement confirming (for example) that the decision had nothing to do with Brexit if that were indeed the case, and despite repeated requests nobody has been prepared to do so."

Lord Advocate James Wolffe, representing the devolved Scottish government, told judges that no justification for a five-week suspension had been advanced.

"I invite the court to take the view that ... no substantive justification has been advanced for that duration," he said.

Wolffe said that even if only seven sitting days were lost, as the suspension overlaps the party conference season, prorogation removes all the legislature's accountability mechanisms.

CONFLICTING DECISIONS

The week before parliament was suspended, MPs rushed through legislation demanding Johnson ask the EU to delay Brexit if he has not agreed divorce terms in time.

He is now racing to try to agree a deal with Brussels to meet his Oct 31 deadline - although EU leaders say he has yet to offer formal proposals.

A lawyer for a Northern Irish campaigner on Thursday claimed that a "no-deal" exit from the EU would lead to new border checks on the island of Ireland.

But Supreme Court President Brenda Hale interrupted him to stress that the judges could not make decisions about Brexit.

"We are solely concerned with the lawfulness or not of the prime minister's advice to Her Majesty to prorogue parliament for a period of five weeks," she said.

"We are not concerned with when and how and on what terms the UK leaves the European Union."

Eleven of the Supreme Court's 12 judges are hearing appeals against two conflicting lower court decisions on Johnson's move, involving multiple plaintiffs.

Scotland's highest civil court found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges to intervene in.

The case has attracted huge public interest - a record 4.41 million connections were made to the court's live stream footage on its opening day on Tuesday.

And some people queued outside for five hours on Thursday to secure some of the 30 public seats in Courtroom 1.

The judges have not yet said when their ruling will be.

Source: AFP/ec

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