Even Boris Johnson’s enemies couldn’t reasonably claim his seven weeks in office have been dull
Even Boris Johnson‘s enemies couldn’t reasonably claim his seven weeks in office have been dull.
No sooner does one thunderbolt shoot out of the blue than it is followed by another from an unsuspected direction.
The ruling of three senior Scottish judges that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament illegally, and hoodwinked Her Majesty the Queen in the process, sounds on the surface about as serious as it can get.
If the judges are correct, the Queen has been unwittingly complicit in an unlawful act.
It’s a good thing she can’t be summoned to her own court, and asked to relate how she was led down the garden path by a Mr B. Johnson.
Not for the first time, he has been accused of duplicitous behaviour towards a member of the female sex.
Did he pull the wool over her eyes? Is this, as some foaming Remainers assert, another constitutional outrage which should result in his resignation, and even imprisonment?
I submit the answer to both questions is ‘No’, and I would guess – though obviously I can’t be sure – that in a week or so we will have moved on from this crisis and be hysterically gripped by another.
I believe the Scottish judges are completely wrong. I don’t impugn their motives, and won’t make much of the revelation that one of them, Lord Brodie, heads an organisation which aims for ‘the development of Franco-Scottish relations in a globalised world’.
MPs Tommy Shepherd and Joanna Cherry celebrated after the ruling of three senior Scottish judges that stated that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament illegally
It would be paranoid of me to suggest that Lord Brodie harbours dreams of reviving the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, or indeed that any of their lordships has a private political agenda that might have affected their judgment in any way.
Nonetheless, it’s a pity they did not heed the wise words of their judicial colleague, Lord Doherty, who last week dismissed the identical petition in a lower court in Edinburgh, brought by the same cross-party group of 79 politicians, the vast majority, if not all of whom, are avid Remainers.
This is what Lord Doherty said: ‘The advice given [by the PM to the Queen] in relation to the prorogation decision is a matter involving high policy and political judgment.
‘This is political territory and decision-making which cannot be measured against legal standards, but only by political judgments.’
In other words, unless a law has been broken – and in Lord Doherty’s view it has not been — judges should not attempt to apply a legal yardstick to political decisions, whether they like them or not.
A very similar conclusion was drawn by three of the most senior judges of England and Wales last week in the High Court in respect of a case brought by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, and supported by former Prime Minister Sir John Major.
In their ruling they stated: ‘We concluded that the decision of the Prime Minister was not justiciable [capable of being settled by law]. It is not a matter for the courts.’
They added that the advice given by Mr Johnson to the Queen was ‘inherently political in nature and there are no legal standards against which to judge [its] legitimacy’.
Even if the Supreme Court finds against him, all that is likely to happen is that MPs would be recalled for the seven days of sittings which the Prime Minister’s prorogation will otherwise deny them over the next five weeks
The three Scottish judges yesterday arrived at a different view. Although I would be the last man on earth to suggest they were influenced to the slightest degree by their political opinions, it is striking how political in tone their ruling often sounds.
They infer, without adducing any evidence, that the Prime Minister’s purpose in requesting a prorogation was ‘to stymie parliamentary scrutiny’ and ‘impede Parliament’.
Very possibly it was, but where is their proof?
Conceivably we will learn more when their lordships publish their complete judgment tomorrow.
But many observers expect the Supreme Court to find against the Scottish court, and to endorse last week’s High Court ruling, when it considers the matter next Tuesday.
Oh, I should have mentioned. A Northern Irish court is due to produce its own opinion today, and that will be thrown into the pot for consideration by the Supreme Court.
Isn’t this all a maddening distraction and waste of time?
What is the benefit of so many learned judges, plus battalions of highly paid, disputatious lawyers, arguing whether or not Boris Johnson overstepped the mark?
Even if the Supreme Court finds against him, all that is likely to happen is that MPs would be recalled for the seven days of sittings which the Prime Minister’s prorogation will otherwise deny them over the next five weeks.
Some would claim a great victory for freedom, and joyously celebrate that the ‘dictator’ Johnson has been brought to heel.
Quite a dictator who can’t even call a General Election when he wants to, and is forced by Parliament to write a letter to the EU he doesn’t want to send!
I’m afraid overwrought Remainers who claim he is taking unprecedented liberties don’t know what they are talking about. Sir John Major – hypocritical scourge of the PM – prorogued Parliament for 19 days in 1997 over a relatively trivial matter.
There was an even more sensational case in 1948, cited by the three senior judges in a full judgment published yesterday of their High Court decision last week against Gina Miller and Sir John.
Having noted that in the past ‘prorogation has been used by the Government to gain a legislative and so political advantage’, they recall how the post-war Labour administration employed the device to ‘facilitate the speedy passage of what became the Parliament Act 1949’.
This measure had been bitterly opposed by Tory peers.
So it seems that when nice Clement Attlee, the then Prime Minister, prorogued Parliament for political gain, history exculpates him.
But when wicked, pro-Brexit Boris Johnson does the same thing, he is accused of constitutional vandalism, and reproached by Scottish judges.
For God’s sake, can’t we all calm down! I realise that some Remainers want to reverse Brexit, but they make themselves ridiculous, and simply increase divisions, when they talk about locking up the PM or call him a dictator.
What Boris Johnson might reasonably ask himself is whether it was worth provoking such a hullaballoo simply to deprive Parliament of seven sitting days.
The political vitriol he is experiencing far outweighs any gain.
In fact, the gain is probably zero, since the main point of proroguing Parliament was to stop MPs making him write a letter to Brussels to request an extension – which he has now got to do.
It hardly matters to him now whether the Commons is recalled or not.
Boris is very far from being a dictator – he is as much of a democrat as the next man – but his sense of strategy and forward-planning could certainly benefit from a little attention.
I pray the Supreme Court has the good sense next week to accept that what happened over prorogation is a matter of politics, not law, and that it will refuse to follow the three Scottish judges down the perilous path of political interference.
And then, perhaps, we could give Boris Johnson and the Government a chance of coming up with a deal that will honour the outcome of the referendum, and avoid the risk of plunging the country into a needless recession.