The Speaker
Monday, 20 May 2024 – 22:25

Suspension Unlawful – What could happen next for Parliament & Brexit?

The Supreme Court has ruled that Boris Johnson’s suspension of the UK Parliament was unlawful, and ‘void and of no effect’.

What does that mean? Well, essentially, Parliament was never officially suspended in the first place. It is expected that Parliament will sit from 11.30 am on Wednesday, but as to what happens next, nobody can be quite sure. Below, we outline a few different options that could face Parliament and the Prime Minister – for more information on how we got to this point, check out our article on the Supreme Court ruling here.


Removing The Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has said that he will not resign following the Supreme Court ruling. He has faced heavy calls to resign from opposition party leaders and MPs but has said he plans to continue in office. According to the highest court in the land, the Prime Minister has acted unlawfully. Mr Johnson has been said to have misled the public on the reasons for proroguing Parliament, and so despite him not resigning, MPs may decide to mount efforts to remove the PM.

The most obvious way to remove the Prime Minister and the government would be for the opposition to call a motion of no confidence in the government. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, has said previously that he would do this at an appropriate time. If a majority of MPs voted for the no-confidence motion, a 14-day window would commence in order to see if the current government or an alternative one with a different Prime Minister could win a motion of confidence. As the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn would likely try to form a government, although he may not mathematically be able to form one based on the current Parliament. Alternatives have been suggested including an emergency government, possibly led by the Mother or Father of the House of Commons. If no government can be formed during this period, then a general election would follow.

The government has no majority in the House of Commons, which could suggest that it would lose a vote on a motion of no confidence. However, opposition parties are still concerned that an early general election could result in the UK falling out of the EU under a no-deal scenario on October 31st. A law has been passed to try and force the Prime Minister to request an extension to Article 50 beyond October 31, however, some MPs do not trust the Prime Minister to honour this law.


Extending Brexit

MPs have already passed a law seeking to force the Prime Minister to request an extension to Article 50 from Brussels. However, Mr Johnson has said he will not request an extension, but will instead aim to achieve a Brexit deal at the next European Council meeting on the 17 October. 

The government may be able to find some loophole in the law to get around asking for an extension while not breaking the law, however, this idea has been played down by many, including by former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption. If the government breaks the law, we are likely to see another legal battle. 

Parliament may seek to pass some new legislation in the coming days or make changes to the existing law seeking to force the Prime Minister to request an extension. It has been suggested that Parliament may try to submit the request to the EU to extend Article 50, rather than the Prime Minister – however, whether this could actually happen is unknown.


Continue Trying To Get A Deal

Boris Johnson has said he wants to continue trying to get a deal from the European Union. In theory, the Prime Minister could still present a deal to Parliament and have it passed before October 31 – however, the likelihood of this being achievable is very much in doubt. The government has no majority and at present no changed deal that it could present to the House of Commons. Continuing as normal also seems a very difficult option for the Prime Minister, having just been told he has acted unlawfully and with many MPs likely trying to take control of Parliamentary business and time in the coming days to ask urgent questions and hold emergency debates.

The government wants a deal with the backstop removed, however, the EU has maintained its position that this would not be acceptable. The EU has told the UK to give them alternative proposals to deal with the backstop issue, however, such proposals have still not been made. Even if an alternative was agreed on with the EU and then passed by Parliament, a marathon task would need to be completed to pass all the associated legislation before October 31 to ensure an orderly exit with a deal.


Pursuing A No Deal

If no Brexit deal can be reached and agreed upon by Parliament, the government may continue with their stance that the UK is leaving the EU on October 31, despite the law trying to request an extension. MPs will likely try to pass legislation to stop this, however their options may be limited, short of revoking Article 50. If a request for an extension is made, there is no guarantee that it would be accepted by the EU. In order for it to be accepted, there would likely need to be a reason behind it – i.e. to allow time for a People’s Vote or an early general election. If just one EU state rejected the request, the request would not be granted.


Holding A People’s Vote

Parliament could vote to hold a People’s Vote and give the public a choice on the way forward for Brexit. For example, this could ask the public to choose between a no-deal Brexit and remaining in the European Union. However, it is unclear how a People’s Vote could be achieved given the current circumstances without a Brexit extension, with the UK currently due to be falling out of the EU in just over a month.


Revoking Article 50

There is the legal option to revoke Article 50, but clearly this is not something the government wants to do or has been considering. The Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they want Brexit stopped and Article 50 revoked.


Prorogue Parliament Again

In theory, the government could try to suspend Parliament again, perhaps for a shorter period. We don’t think this will happen though given the ruling in the Supreme Court. 


Whatever happens next, it’s going to be extraordinary

The UK has been in unprecedented circumstances for some time, but now even more so after 11 Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that Boris Johnson had acted unlawfully in suspending Parliament. This situation is truly extraordinary and has never happened before, therefore what will happen next is largely an unknown entity – the above is just an indication of what could be expected. To find out what does happen, follow us @speakerpolitics on Twitter for continuing coverage.

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