The below update was sent on 27th September 2019 to my Brexit mailing list. To subscribe please email me with the words “EU subscribe” in the subject field.
Welcome to my 35th EU update. Parliament has just returned from suspension (prorogation) on 25th September after the Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful. This update covers the court cases, developments in Parliament as we returned to the Commons and what this might mean for Brexit going forward.
This is all the information and updates I have so far. Any further questions will be addressed in further updates. If you have recently contacted me regarding Brexit, please see this as my response as things may have changed considerably since your email.
If you wish to see my previous 34 EU Updates, please go to www.ianmurraymp.com/european-union
Court Action on Prorogation
As discussed in my EU update 34, I was part of legal action in the Scottish Courts to challenge the lawfulness of the government’s decision to prorogue Parliament. I signed an affidavit for the evidence that was presented. The legal challenge involved more than 75 MPs and peers, working on a cross-party basis. The group included MPs from Scottish Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and several independent and Green parliamentarians. It also included Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project, which backed the action.
There were also challenges in the courts of England and Wales brought by Gina Miller and in the Northern Irish courts.
In the High Court in England, the challenge was rejected on the grounds that the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue was “inherently political in nature”, and that there are “no legal standards” against which to judge its legitimacy.
Although our cross-party challenge in the Scottish Courts was also initially rejected on similar grounds, we appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session. We then received a ruling on 11th September which stated that that the prorogation was unlawful, because the prime minister had acted for the improper purpose of “stymying” scrutiny in Parliament. I wrote about this in the Edinburgh Evening News, which you can read here.
On 17th September, the UK Supreme Court heard a joint appeal from the judgment of the High Court and the Inner House of the Court of Session. It gave its decision on 24th September.
Eleven judges of the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the decision of the Scottish Court of Session. Their conclusion was that prorogation would be unlawful if it “has the effect, of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the power of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive”, the Supreme Court found that in this case the Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful.
The court reached its judgement unanimously. I was on BBC Radio Scotland to discuss the Supreme Court victory, which you can listen to here.
There was no legitimate justification for the Prime Minister to suspend Parliament for a total of 5 weeks at the height of the biggest political crisis this country has faced since the Second World War, with the fast approaching 31st October Brexit deadline. Usually, prorogation for a Queens speech is about four or five days.
The Order in Council was therefore quashed, meaning prorogation never happened. The Speaker of the House of Commons confirmed this on Wednesday when MPs were recalled to Parliament, stating that “the item relating to the Prorogation of Parliament in the Journal of Monday 9 September is expunged and the House is instead recorded as adjourned at the close of the business.”
This is a historic result. The courts have upheld British democracy and delivered an astonishing rebuke to Boris Johnson for his disgraceful behaviour. The Prime Minister lied and politicised the Queen. I have been clear in my view that he has no option but to resign.
MPs Recalled to Parliament
We wasted no time in holding the Government to account when we returned to Parliament on Wednesday 25th September. There were around 44 applications for Urgent Questions (UQ) on that one day. The Speaker selected two Urgent Questions and there were also five ministerial statements.
The Attorney General was forced to make a statement during the first UQ about his legal opinion on the advice given to Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament. He told MPs that “The Government accepts the judgment and accepts that it lost the case” and that “At all times the Government acted in good faith and in the belief that its approach was both lawful and constitutional.”
Clearly, the Government has learnt no lessons from the Supreme Court ruling.
I asked the Attorney General how much the prorogation had cost the tax payer and, unsurprisingly, his answer was disappointing. You can watch my question here.
I have written to him further, requesting he publishes the figures promptly.
The Prime Minister also made a statement to the House of Commons on Brexit and the Supreme Court judgement.
I asked Boris Johnson if he would seek an extension of Article 50 from the EU, if he has not got a deal by 19th October, as he is required to do by law. He flippantly responded “No”. You can watch my question here.
The Prime Minister’s shocking answer suggests he will again attempt to break the law. Given he has already been unlawful on suspending parliament I thought he may be a little more careful in breaking the law again.
Many constituents have been in touch with me to express their understandable concern about the dangerous and divisive language used in the Chamber recently in relation to Brexit. Boris Johnson has a responsibility to try and bring unity to our country, but instead he dismisses concerns about his language. He used “humbug” in response to my colleague, Paula Sheriff MP, when she was talking about the death of our friend, Jo Cox. There are strongly held views on both sides of the Brexit debate, but that does not make any such behaviour acceptable. As office holders and elected politicians, we must set the example and we will continue to remind the PM and his Government of this. It was embarrassing and we will not tolerate that kind of language from our Prime Minister.
I was granted an Urgent Question on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 compliance with the law. The Prime Minister refused to come to the House to answer and instead sent a Junior Minister.
My UQ can be watched here.
The PM’s new strategy seems to be to try and goad MPs into voting for an election that the Government clearly don’t even want. They are doing everything they can to deflect from complying with the Benn Act passed by MPs at the start of the month, which prevents a no deal scenario on 31st October and requires the PM to ask the EU for an extension of Article 50 to 31st January 2020.
They know full well that MPs will only vote for an election when we have legal confirmation that we will not be leaving the EU on 31st October as per the Benn Act.
The legislation is clear. The Government must pass a Brexit deal or an affirmative vote for no deal in parliament by 19 October or the Prime Minister must request an extension from the EU to 31 January 2020. The only Schedule to the Act contains the wording of the letter that the PM must sign and send. It appears the Prime Minister is trying to find a legal loophole that allows him to “obey the law” whilst not sending the required letter.
The Supreme Court’s ruling now gives MPs more opportunities to scrutinise the government’s Brexit policy as the Prime Minister both seeks a renegotiated Brexit deal and prepares to leave with no deal. It seems we are back in the land of unicorns again as there has been no evidence of progress made towards a new ‘deal’. I wrote about why Boris Johnson cannot be trusted, which you can read here.
I and my cross-party colleagues will continue to work together in Parliament to solve this Brexit crisis. We will take all necessary steps to hold Boris Johnson and his Government accountable if the time comes when he dares to break the law again. I will also continue to fight to secure giving people a final say on Brexit – with the option to remain in the EU.
We are tantalisingly close to a majority in Parliament for a confirmatory public referendum on any deal that Parliament passes with the option to remain. That is the one and only staging post that we need to get to with all the opposition parties and many Conservative MPs united around that cause. We just need to find a mechanism that will be legally binding to present this, and I think we may win it. Whether the PM would accept it is another battle for another day.
Additionally, we can’t go for a Vote of No Confidence in the Government and call an election until after 31st October when the Benn Act is fully implemented otherwise, we risk falling out of the EU with no deal. That is not in the national interest so we can’t risk that for now. A Government of National Unity is also being looked into and we are working very hard on that too.
Brexit Public meeting
This month Daniel Johnson and I organised another Brexit Public meeting with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This is the 5th such constituency event I have organised on Brexit and look forward to hosting more in the future.
Other attendees included Elaine Motion, Chair of Balfour Mason, who successfully brought the recent prorogation case before the court of session and Hazel Nolan of the GMB who spoke passionately on the impact no deal would have on workers.
Gordon Brown’s keynote speech focused on the Prime Minister’s dishonest claims about the risk to medical and food supplies, and fuel price rises outlined in the Yellowhammer document.
Big thanks to event sponsors Hope not Hate and all those who attended.
You can watch the full event here.
March 4 Remain Edinburgh Rally
I also attended the March 4 Remain rally in Edinburgh recently for People’s Vote UK organised by The European Movement in Scotland and others. It was a glorious day and the message was clear – Boris Johnson doesn’t speak for us and we demand a final say on this issue of Brexit. It was also the opportunity to celebrate the UN International Day of Peace and to unite for Climate Change the day after the student protest.
I enjoyed addressing the crowds and listening to all the speakers, especially the architect of Article 50, Lord John Kerr. He reminded us that when he was in Brussels Boris Johnson had just been sacked from the Times newspaper for making up stories. Things never change…
As ever, I will continue to keep you updated as things progress.