Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy has been on trial ever since he became prime minister eight weeks ago, and on Tuesday his lawyers will defend it in the U.K.’s highest court.
Fresh from being lambasted by a fellow European leader after he opted out of a joint news conference Monday, Johnson will see his decision to suspend Parliament under scrutiny in the first of three days of hearings at the U.K.’s Supreme Court in London.
It’s a landmark hearing that not only threatens to undermine Johnson’s position as prime minister, but could also curtail the British executive’s longstanding power over when the legislature sits. Johnson could be forced to recall Parliament, giving opponents of a no-deal Brexit more room to try to thwart his “do or die” promise to leave the European Union with or without a divorce agreement on Oct. 31.
“People think that we’ve somehow stopped Parliament from scrutinizing Brexit, what absolute nonsense,” Johnson told the BBC in an interview broadcast Monday evening. “Parliament will be able to scrutinize the deal that I hope we will be able to do both before and after the European Council on Oct. 17.”
Johnson’s defiance came after a day of talks that suggested the two sides are no closer to reaching a Brexit agreement. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker complained the U.K. still hasn’t put forward any concrete proposals and Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel criticized Johnson after he refused to appear alongside him at a press conference.
A noisy demonstration, in which protesters could be heard shouting “dirty liar” as music blared, prompted Johnson’s team to ask their hosts in Luxembourg to move the event indoors — but the request was denied and Johnson decided to leave the chaotic scene.
Bettel pressed on alone and, gesturing to the empty podium next to him, said it is time for Johnson to “stop speaking and act” to find a Brexit agreement. The U.K. prime minister and his Conservative Party are responsible for “the mess we’re in at the moment,” Bettel said.
“We need more than just words.”
Luxembourg’s PM mocked Boris Johnson after he skips a press conference following a hostile welcome from anti-Brexit protesters pic.twitter.com/yOKiFHLULW
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) September 16, 2019
“Our people need to know what is going to happen to them in six weeks’ time. They need clarity, they need stability and they need certainty,” Bettel told reporters. “You can’t hold their future hostage for party political gains.”
It was an ignominious end to a day that started with Johnson expressing hope for a deal. The U.K. is due to leave the EU at the end of October, and Johnson has said he is determined to leave the bloc by then, even if that means doing so with no divorce agreement in place.
Undeterred by Monday’s setbacks, Johnson said he is still “cautiously optimistic” agreement can be reached.
‘Take Some Work’
“The big picture is that the commission would like to do a deal,” Johnson told the BBC in an interview after the talks. The EU president is “highly intelligent” and wants a deal, the premier said. “But clearly it’s going to take some work.”
Juncker’s team said the U.K. has still not presented any proposals and it’s their “responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions” to allow the free flow of goods between the Republic of Ireland, which is in the bloc, and Northern Ireland, which is in the U.K.
Johnson said he is offering alternative arrangements for the Irish border, the main sticking point in talks with the bloc, though refused to give specifics. “There’s a limit to how much the details benefit from publicity before we’ve actually done the deal,” he told the BBC.
‘Obey the Law’
While the atmosphere around the table was friendly, a breakthrough was no closer to being reached, one EU official said.
With patience running out in Europe, and his room to compromise strictly limited, Johnson is doubling down on his plan to take the U.K. out of the bloc with no deal at all on Oct. 31, setting up a further showdown with the courts after this week’s proceedings.
The prime minister’s officials have indicated he will defy a new law designed to force him to seek a delay to Brexit rather than allow a no-deal split next month. Instead, they are preparing to go to court to “test” the new legislation.
Johnson said he would not breach the law but didn’t go into detail of how he would get around the vote in Parliament that requires him to ask the EU for an extension on Oct. 19 if he can’t reach a new agreement by then.
“I will uphold the constitution, I will obey the law, but we will come out on Oct.
The constitution will be at the center of the Supreme Court proceedings this week after Scottish judges ruled against Johnson’s suspension of Parliament. It was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behavior of public authorities,” Judge Philip Brodie said in the ruling.
Lawyers for the government will argue that the Scottish court was wrong when it ruled that Johnson’s suspension – or prorogation – of Parliament, announced Aug. 28, was intended to stymie lawmakers’ scrutiny of Brexit and was therefore unlawful.
The 11 Supreme Court judges will also hear an appeal from a group who failed to convince judges in the English Courts that Johnson’s decision was an abuse of power. The hearings are scheduled to run until Thursday and the court may not rule until next week.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who repeatedly defended judges as critics of the Scottish court ruling questioned their impartiality, said the “robust independence” of the judiciary must be respected whatever the outcome.
“We will examine the ruling very carefully and abide by the rule of law,” Buckland told the BBC on Tuesday. U.K. judges are “world class and world leading, and we must let them do their job.”
–With assistance from Jonathan Browning, Jonathan Stearns and Jessica Shankleman.
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