Thursday’s busy Supreme Court schedule will include a remarkable and unprecedented sight: that of a former British Prime Minister making a case against the incumbent in the country’s highest court.
John Major will be represented by a lawyer and will not be speaking himself. But he has already submitted a written case to the court that accuses Boris Johnson of shutting down Parliament to stop lawmakers from interfering with the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy.
Major himself controversially prorogued Parliament for three weeks in the run-up to the 1997 general election, a move critics claimed was motivated by his desire to stop the publication of a report about Conservative MPs accepting bribes.
Here’s a few key lines from Major’s submission.
On Johnson’s motive for suspending Parliament: “The decision was in fact substantially motivated by a desire to obstruct Parliament from interfering with the Prime Minister’s plans,” Major’s submission reads. Elsewhere, Major argues: “Somewhat strikingly, it remains genuinely unclear whether the Defendant disputes that proposition.”
On the government refusing to submit any witness statements: “It would be very straightforward for the Prime Minister or a senior official to sign a witness statement confirming (for example) that the decision had nothing to do with Brexit if that were indeed the case, and despite repeated requests nobody has been prepared to do so,” reads Major’s submission.
On whether prorogation is a political matter, or one for the courts to consider: “In modern times the power of prorogation is not in any sense a matter of “high policy,” Major’s submission argues. “Indeed, in the vast majority of cases the decision to prorogue Parliament has no political content at all. The routine and regular prorogations of the last few decades are plainly not so politically sensitive that it would be wrong for the Court even to begin to examine them.”
On Boris Johnson implying he might try to ignore a law instructing him to seek a Brexit extension if he can’t secure a deal: “In circumstances where, for example, Parliament has passed an Act requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the Article 50 deadline if certain conditions are met, and the Prime Minister is on record saying that he will never in any circumstances seek such an extension, it is all the more necessary that any legal analysis must have regard to the possibility of “extreme” scenarios as well as ordinary and uncontroversial ones.”