The United Kingdom’s highest court today issued a historic judgment in finding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament unlawful. At the heart of the case is the power of Parliament to hold the government to account, specifically over Brexit, where the threat of the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal will endanger people’s human rights.
When Johnson’s government announced last month that Parliament would be suspended – or prorogued – for five weeks in the run-up to Brexit, currently set for October 31, it effectively shut down legislative scrutiny of the implications of Brexit, in particular the possibility of a “no-deal” Brexit.
The government’s own information indicates that a no-deal Brexit will have a devastating impact on human rights, including disruptions to food, fuel, and medicine, and police warn of possible civil unrest. It would also deepen uncertainty for EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK citizens in other EU countries over their rights to remain living with their families.
Today’s court ruling means Parliament can resume its attempts to ensure such rights violations do not occur. Parliament already approved a law in early September that would force the government to seek an extension to Brexit if no deal has been reached by mid-October.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court could find no evidence, “let alone a good reason,” to justify the government suspending Parliament, and therefore found the prorogation unlawful. In effect, the court has ruled that suspending Parliament never legally happened. Immediately after the ruling, parliamentarians began preparing for a swift return to Parliament, which will reopen on Wednesday.
To avoid a human rights crisis, it is vital that the prime minister complies with this ruling. Johnson hinted in media interviews that even if his government lost today’s case, he would consider suspending Parliament for a second time.
As it resumes, Parliament should step up its efforts to block a no-deal Brexit that would recklessly gamble with people’s human rights.