LONDON — In a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain’s highest court ruled Tuesday that his decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the crucial countdown to the country’s Brexit deadline was illegal.
The unanimous, strongly worded Supreme Court judgment declared his order to suspend Parliament “void and of no effect.” The court found that Johnson acted to limit debate by lawmakers on Britain’s impending departure from the European Union in violation of Parliament’s constitutional role.
The landmark decision was quickly criticized by Johnson and prompted calls for him to quit from opposition leaders. Johnson and Parliament have been at odds since he took power in July with the determination to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal.
”I strongly disagree with this decision of the Supreme Court. I have the upmost respect for our judiciary, I don’t think this was the right decision,” Johnson said in New York, where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly. “I think that the prorogation (suspension of Parliament) has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge.”
Johnson did not rule out trying to suspend Parliament again.
”As the law currently stands, the U.K. leaves the EU on Oct. 31st come what may, but the exciting thing for us now is to get a good deal. And that is what we are working on,” Johnson said. “And to be honest it is not made much easier by this kind of stuff in Parliament or in the courts.”
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the historic verdict and said Parliament would resume its business Wednesday morning. He said citizens are “entitled” to have Parliament perform its core constitutional duties, which are to hold ministers to account and pass laws.
Bercow said will not be a Prime Minister Questions session in Parliament on Wednesday despite the fact that lawmakers were returning.
Johnson’s office said, due to the ruling, the prime minister will fly back to London overnight, earlier than planned, arriving before Parliament resumes.
The harsh tone of the court’s decision, and the unanimous vote of 11 Supreme Court judges, led many to say that Johnson can’t carry on.
”His position is untenable and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign,” Scottish National Party legislator Joanna Cherry said outside the court.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told his party conference that the court decision shows Johnson’s “contempt” for democracy and rule of law. He said Johnson should resign “and become the shortest-serving prime minister there’s ever been.”
”I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position,” Corbyn told the party faithful in the southern city of Brighton.
In this nation without a written constitution, the case marked a rare confrontation between the prime minister, the courts and Parliament over their rights and responsibilities. It revolved around whether Johnson acted lawfully when he advised the queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks during a crucial time frame before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said the suspension “was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
She said the court’s decision means Parliament was never legally suspended and is technically still sitting.
The court rejected the government’s assertions that the decision to suspend Parliament until Oct. 14 was routine and not related to Brexit. Government lawyers claimed that under Britain’s unwritten constitution, it was a matter for politicians, not courts, to decide.
The government’s opponents argued that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accused Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
The court decision Tuesday followed three days of hearings last week.
Jill Lawless reported from New York. Mike Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.