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11 September 2019

The Scottish ruling against proroguing parliament could expose the government’s weakness

The decision could lead to further defeats for Boris Johnson.

By Stephen Bush

The government’s suspension of parliament has just been ruled unlawful by Scotland’s highest court. The Court of Session has ruled unanimously that Boris Johnson’s intent in proroguing was to stymie parliament, and as a result, it no longer stands. 

The government will appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court, in which 11 of the 12 law lords will sit (it has to be an odd number to ensure a verdict can be reached), with the case to start on Tuesday, but it means that as it stands, Johnson’s prorogation of parliament has been undone and no longer applies.

Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice lead in the Commons and one of the MPs behind the legal case, has called on parliament to be recalled. The recall is in the gift of the Speaker of each house, though the Lords Speaker, Norman Fowler, has generally been significantly more reluctant to break convention than John Bercow.

More importantly, it means that the work of select committees can continue – expect a loud row over whether or not Johnson and other ministers will now resume their mothballed obligations to appear in front of select committees over the recess period. 

Some Conservative MPs are already reasoning that the worst has happened – while the legal case is a cause for further irritation to the government, MPs have already voted to force an extension and to seek the publication of the government’s no-deal planning. Others in the government will hope that the verdict will be overturned in the Supreme Court. But it means the possibility that the government’s major source of discomfort – its lack of a real majority in the elected House – will once again be in full view, at least for a little while longer. 

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