UK Supreme Court rules against Boris Johnson - what happens next?
FT editor Lionel Barber and FT news editor Matthew Garrahan discuss what the Supreme Court's decision means for the prime minister, parliament and Brexit
Filmed by Nicola Stansfield and Bianca Wakeman. Edited by Petros Gioumpasis
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Britain's Supreme Court has delivered a devastating defeat to Boris Johnson. In a unanimous ruling, 11 judges have ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament, which was deliberating on Brexit, was unlawful. Here with me is Matthew Garrahan, the news editor, to discuss this, frankly epic moment in the history of Britain as a constitutional democracy.
It was epic, Lionel. How on a - the scale of it, and the language, the harshness of the language in this ruling was quite unprecedented, wasn't it?
Well, Britain's Supreme Court is only ten years old. It's not like the US Supreme Court that goes back to 1787. But in a way, this was as big as a very important judgement back in 1801, called Marbury versus Madison, where essentially, the US Supreme Court ruled against the executive, and set out the parameters of power for the executive and the legislature and the courts. And this was this moment, even though we have an unwritten constitution in the UK.
And what do you think the immediate repercussions of it will be?
Well, for Mr Johnson, given the language, which was, again, ruthless, it argued contrary to what the government said, that this was a matter for the courts, not just a matter of politics, that the executive had clearly abused its powers, and that Parliament's role as holding the executive to account, deliberating in public on matters of state, that this all these matters had been infringed. So for Mr Johnson as prime minister, he has some very hard questions to answer about whether his position as prime minister is tenable.
Which is quite something. I mean, he's waking up in New York. Currently, he's there on a visit...
To the UN.
What does he do next? I mean, Parliament will presumably reopen tomorrow. And MPs will sit again. What happens after that?
Well, first of all, the court made clear that the Parliament had not actually been prorogued because it was unlawful. So they should, in fact, be sitting. But they left it to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to decide.
Huge victory for him, isn't this?
A big one, and for Gina Miller, by the way, who brought the suit in the first place with Jo Cherry. And by the way, another very important point, that the Supreme Court ruled in exactly the same way as strongly as the Supreme Court in Scotland, the Court of Session.
So you have a sort of unanimity between England, Wales, and Scotland. That's important for the United Kingdom. But what next?
Well, I think Mr Johnson's going to deliberate at the United Nations with his inner circle. And he's going to face a Parliament come back. And he will have to answer questions about whether his position is sustainable. He's let it be known last night that he intended to stay on, whatever the ruling.
He also said he was going to study the ruling carefully. But we are in untested waters, aren't we? I mean, for a British prime minister to have been called in court that his actions were unlawful is something we - this is a new ground for us.
It definitely is. And, you know, there is a history on Mr Johnson's part of brazening things out, facing controversy, from plagiarism to other matters, shall we say. This, of course, is on a different scale. This involves matters high matters of state, constitutional propriety.
And just the way this thing was managed, I mean, remember, he and his circle prorogue. They decide to prorogue Parliament, ask the Queen's support, which they got, the royal assent for suspending Parliament. I mean, essentially, the ruling supports the fact that he misled the Queen.
He said it was just to - he wanted a new Parliament to discuss his new legislative programme.
Do you think, given this ruling, I mean, the approach of his administration, of his advisors, Dominic Cummings, the key one, has been to ride fairly roughshod over convention? Do you think that this necessitates a change if he stays?
I think it's important to recognise that Mr Johnson and his Svengali adviser, Dominic Cummings, said that in order to achieve Brexit, we must get it by October the 31st, come what may.
No ifs or buts.
No ifs or buts, because there's been too much delay - three years already since the referendum. And that's why they wanted to put pressure both on Parliament and on the EU to get a deal. There doesn't seem to be much progress here, by the way, on that deal.
But my final point is that it's really important to distinguish between constitutional propriety and the Brexit question. In effect, the judges were not saying whether it was right to respect or not the referendum result. They were saying the executive, Mr Johnson, has infringed and abused his power regarding Parliament's role. And so that is quite different.
There will be people in the country, and I'm sure some conservative newspapers, who will denounce the judges as enemies of the people.
Yes, enemies of the...
I think this is completely wrong. It's very damaging for our democracy. And they should respect the fact that this was a unanimous judgement by the top judges in the land on matters of constitutional propriety. It goes to the heart of how our democracy can and should work.
And finally, Lionel, this case was so electric because it was in a sort of grey area of our unwritten constitution. There were some calls outside the court that I heard just now for a more codified, formalised written constitution. Do you think that that is something that we're going to get anywhere near in the coming months?
I think it's premature,
to be moving towards a written constitution. That's a very big move. I think what you've seen today is the court adumbrate, delineate the limits of power for the executive and the role of democracy, of Parliament in our democracy. That should be enough. It should be enough to reflect on.
Let us just say this, though. Given other matters of the constitution, we know the strains within the United Kingdom. We also know about the fact that maybe the House of Lords isn't the most efficient - it's a powerful scrutiny - there are other questions - powerful scrutiny of legislation, et cetera.
But there are some problems that we have. But I think that's for another day. What we should today celebrate is that the judges stood up very clearly and unanimously for the rule of law.
Lionel, thank you very much.