Guardian News and Media /London
Boris Johnson is under intense pressure to recall parliament following the Scottish ruling that prorogation was unlawful, with MPs branding his refusal to do so authoritarian and an affront to democracy.
Labour, the SNP and LibDems all demanded an urgent recall of parliament to allow scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plans, after Scottish appeal court judges ruled against Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to the October Brexit deadline.
The prime minister was facing outrage and the prospect of more protests, as No 10 made clear that parliament would not be reinstated unless Johnson was ordered to do so at appeal.
Downing Street said it was not under any obligation to bring parliament back into session following the Scottish ruling but added that the government would be bound by the judgment of the supreme court. “As a matter of fact, parliament remains prorogued,” a No 10 spokesman said.
Amid fury that Johnson was effectively ignoring a Scottish court’s judgement, Downing Street also became embroiled in a row about whether a No 10 source had briefed anonymously against Scottish judges, implying that campaigners had chosen a court in Edinburgh because of political bias.
The source told the Sun: “We note that last week the high court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful. The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman hit back at the idea that Johnson’s administration was in any way attacking Scottish judges, saying: “Absolutely not, we have absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary.”
“There are now contradictory judgments in the English and Scottish courts, and the matter will be considered by the supreme court next week,” he added.
However, the damage had been done, as opposition parties seized on the briefing. The SNP released an advert saying: “Sources at No 10 have responded by questioning the political neutrality of the Scottish judges. The Tories at Westminster are effectively saying: Scottish democracy must be ignored. Scots Law must be ignored.”
Downing Street was also facing accusations that Johnson had misled the Queen by advising her that prorogation was legal.
With tensions rising, Dominic Grieve, the former Tory Cabinet minister, who had the whip withdrawn by Johnson last week, said the prime minister must resign if it turns out that he had given her the wrong advice. “Johnson will find himself in an untenable position in Parliament ... every member that believes in our constitution would simply say, it’s over,” he told the BBC.
Pressed on whether the PM lied to the Queen about the reasoning behind the prorogation, Johnson’s spokesman referred journalists to the arguments laid out by the government’s lawyers during the court cases.
“The answer on why parliament has been prorogued is unchanged. As we’ve said, the current parliamentary session is the longest parliamentary session in almost 400 years. In recent months it’s been one of the least active. The PM said on his first day in the job that the time has come to act, to take decisions, to give strong leadership and to change this country for the better. He wants to put before MPs a proper domestic legislative programme. This will be a Queen’s Speech focused on helping the NHS, fighting violent crime and cutting the cost of living.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in Westminster, demanded that Johnson listen to the Scottish court and told him to “abide by the rule of law”.
“Every day that Parliament remains suspended, you and the UK government are shutting down democracy,” he wrote in a letter to the prime minister.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, also urged Johnson to “open those doors” so that MPs can hold the prime minister to account. “This is really important. The idea of shutting down parliament offended people across the country and then they felt they weren’t being told the truth,” he said.
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