British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament just weeks before Britain’s EU departure date faced legal challenges yesterday following a furious outcry from pro-European groups and lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson on Wednesday announced the surprise decision to dismiss parliament — known as proroguing — next month for nearly five weeks, claiming it was necessary to allow him to pursue a “bold and ambitious” new domestic agenda.
However, the move sent shock waves through the British political system, which relies on centuries of precedents and conventions instead of a codified constitution.
In a blow for Johnson, popular Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson said that she was stepping down after eight years in which she has turned around her party’s fortunes.
Davidson, who supported staying in the EU, urged Johnson to clinch a deal with Brussels and mentioned the “conflict I have felt over Brexit” in her resignation letter.
Johnson’s opponents have labeled the suspension of parliament a “coup” and a “constitutional outrage,” prompting immediate court bids in London and Edinburgh to halt the process.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has also written to request an audience with Queen Elizabeth II to voice his opposition to the suspension, as has Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson.
Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell said that the party would not allow Johnson to behave like a “dictator.”
At least two legal challenges have also been announced.
Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, said that she had applied for an urgent judicial review challenging “the effect and the intention” of the suspension.
“We think that this request is illegal,” said Miller, who in 2017 successfully won lawmakers the right to vote on formally starting to leave the EU in a court challenge.
Scottish National Party politician Joanna Cherry said that lawyers had applied for an urgent interim hearing at Scotland’s highest civil court, which they hoped would take place as early as yesterday.
However, British House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the suspension and insisted that lawmakers would still have time to debate Brexit ahead of Britain’s Oct. 31 EU departure date.
“The candyfloss of outrage, which is almost entirely confected, is from people who never wanted to leave the European Union,” he told BBC radio.
Thousands of people protested in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and other cities, while an online petition seeking to block the decision had garnered more than 1.3 million signatures by early yesterday.
At the biggest rally, crowds gathered near parliament in London chanting “stop the coup” and waving EU flags.
Queen Elizabeth approved the request to end what has been the longest session of parliament in nearly 400 years in the second week of next month and reopen it on Oct. 14 — a little over two weeks before Brexit.
The House of Commons typically goes into recess at about the annual party conference season, which begins on Sept. 14 and ends on Oct. 2, but critics slammed the more lengthy break.
Corbyn has said that he might call a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government, which commands a majority of just one seat.
In the seismic 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership, 52 percent voted in favor of leaving the bloc, a result that has left parliament and the country bitterly divided.
Johnson insists Britain must leave by the Oct. 31 deadline — already twice-delayed — with or without a divorce deal from Brussels.
Parliament has three times rejected a withdrawal agreement struck between Brussels and the government of Johnson’s predecessor, former British prime minister Theresa May.
Euroskeptics objected to a so-called “backstop” provision to keep the Irish border open for people and goods, which would keep Britain closely aligned with the EU.
Johnson, who took office barely a month ago, wants the EU to drop the backstop measure entirely — something Brussels has repeatedly ruled out.
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