On learning of his seismic humiliation at the hands of the Supreme Court yesterday, Boris Johnson could not have failed to reflect sombrely upon the bitterest irony.
As spearhead of the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum, he argued vigorously that among the myriad benefits of Britain quitting the EU, one towered above the rest: Taking back control.
Not only did this mean regaining sovereignty over our laws, money, borders and trading agreements, it also meant stopping the remorseless undermining of our legal system by the European courts – placing power squarely back in the hands of UK judges.
Make no mistake, this is a catastrophic defeat. Indeed, in living memory, it is an unparalleled embarrassment for a serving premier
So from his hotel in New York, where he attended the UN Climate Change summit, the Prime Minister might have smirked mirthlessly on hearing the devastating verdict.
In an historic and unprecedented ruling, 11 justices on Britain’s highest court delivered him a deeply damaging blow. Citing edicts dating back more than 500 years, they said his attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks before holding a Queen’s Speech on October 14 was ‘unlawful’.
He was guilty of ‘frustrating or preventing’ parliamentary democracy. And they decreed the controversial prorogation ‘void’ – meaning MPs can resume sitting. The only silver lining to this pitch-black judicial cloud was that the court did not accuse him of lying to the monarch.
Characteristically, Mr Johnson came out fighting, saying he ‘strongly disagreed’ with the judgment – and, rightly, that he would not resign.
But make no mistake, this is a catastrophic defeat. Indeed, in living memory, it is an unparalleled embarrassment for a serving premier.
Of course, prorogation is, typically, an entirely normal procedure – especially when a new administration takes power. Mr Johnson argued that he wanted a Queen’s Speech to parade his gleaming domestic policy agenda – on crime, schools, social care and the NHS – while reminding voters about the terrifying danger to jobs and the economy of Jeremy Corbyn’s insane socialist manifesto.
Moreover, the current rancorous, dysfunctional Parliament has sat for longer than any since King Charles I. And don’t forget, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had been screaming blue murder for an election (until – surprise, surprise – it no longer suited them).
Could the bull in a china shop tactics deployed by Mr Johnson – egged on by his boorish, nihilistic aide de camp Dominic Cummings – have backfired any more spectacularly? It’s very doubtful.
The architect of his own downfall, he has found himself tripped and trapped. Yet the hard truth is, he had next to nothing to achieve by suspending Parliament – and everything to lose.
Instead of being wrong-footed by news of the prorogation, a Remain alliance – aided and abetted by Tory rebels and a vainglorious and partisan Speaker – egregiously tore up centuries of Commons procedure (side note: how curious they didn’t holler ‘constitutional outrage’ then!) to block a No Deal Brexit. Rapier-like, they skewered No 10’s main bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU – the threat of walking away on October 31.
Moreover, the current rancorous, dysfunctional Parliament has sat for longer than any since King Charles I
Mr Johnson had hoped his robust tactics would drag Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and their chums back to the table to make concessions, including scrapping the deeply unpopular Irish backstop.
But following the Supreme Court judgment, Brussels can scent blood in the water. Aware that the PM is badly (although not fatally) wounded, why should the EU budge an inch during future talks? Rather than throw Boris any crumbs of comfort, European leaders can sit back and twiddle their thumbs in the hope he will cave in, ditch his ‘do or die’ promise to deliver Brexit by Halloween and demeaningly grovel for an extension to our membership.
It is inescapable that the Prime Minister has been an architect in his downfall. But the only one? We respectfully suggest not.
Of course, this paper fully accepts – and respects – the rule of law. We believe an independent judiciary is the friend of a strong Constitution. And the Supreme Court has spoken decisively. But on this case, others found differently. A fortnight ago in the High Court, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett – the most senior judge in England and Wales – ruled it was a political, rather than legal, matter.
Why, not long ago it would have seemed unthinkable for any UK court to rule on the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament.
If ministers misused this power, they could be brought to heel by other MPs in a confidence motion or voters in a general election. But since politicians handed the courts new powers – including Tony Blair bringing in the loathed Human Rights Act – there have been simmering concerns about judicial mission creep.
Whether the Supreme Court’s judgment was constitutionally appropriate, only history will decide.
Erudite and impeccably neutral, Baroness Hale, the president, took great care to emphasise yesterday’s ruling was not about Brexit. Undoubtedly, she’s right. And no one suggests for a second that the Supreme Court acted out of political animus. But the two are inextricably linked.
The case was a victory for lavishly financed Remainers, including gloating investment manager Gina Miller and thin-skinned ex-PM Sir John Major (who once prorogued Parliament to avoid a cash-for-questions scandal). Having failed to win at the ballot box, they have resorted to the courts.
Mr Johnson wanted his Queen’s Speech to remind voters about the terrifying danger to jobs and the economy of Jeremy Corbyn’s insane socialist manifesto
Many of the 17.4million who voted Leave three long years ago – giving the largest mandate in our history – could be forgiven for wondering what it will take for the democratic will to be honoured. With courage and ambition, they said precisely what they wanted: To cast off the sclerotic bloc’s shackles and stride out into the world.
Now, from Barnsley to Bishop Auckland, they are receiving the message that their precious vote – their voice, no less! – is not worth the paper on which they wrote their ‘X’, trampled into the dirt to thwart Brexit at all cost. They are not fools. They know who the main culprits are: Our out-of-touch, elitist Parliament.
Never let it be forgotten that, by a thumping majority of six to one, Government and Opposition MPs voted to back a referendum. Next, MPs overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50 – the legal instrument for our departure. Since then, however, these pitiful politicians have leapt through every possible procedural hoop to frustrate the explicit desire of the electorate.
A motley mixture of incompetent MPs, masochistically intransigent Eurosceptic zealots, treacherous Remainers and a supercilious Speaker have conspired to block Brexit.
They are the most blatant constitutional vandals!
Today, they will troop back to the Commons. But what will they possibly achieve? They’ve already tied Mr Johnson’s hands by scuppering No Deal. And they stubbornly refuse to coalesce around a single plan to leave the EU.
What most MPs really want, of course, is that there should be no real Brexit at all. Unfortunately, they are too spineless to say it.
So Parliament remains in interminable paralysis – and furious, exasperated voters, justifiably, wish a plague on all their houses.
The nation is crying out for resolution. Moderate, pragmatic people are sick and tired of the tawdry self-indulgence of Westminster.
Yesterday, Mr Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were among a caterwaul calling for Mr Johnson to resign. There is a simple remedy: Pass a vote of no confidence in him and there can be an election.
But they obstinately refuse. So far, they are running scared – terrified of Boris’ popularity and determination to deliver Brexit. But the sooner this zombie Parliament is put out of its misery, the better.
The Mail believes it is a democratic disgrace that an election is being prevented. Britain desperately needs a chance to give its views, so we can move beyond the whole Brexit maelstrom. With a little luck, we can then put this tortuous saga behind us and focus on the future.