One of the benefits a British Prime Minister enjoys is the lack of a definitive Constitution. In the United Kingdom, governmental power is restrained not by a single document but rather by an interwoven mixture of legal precedent and a sense of propriety.
Boris Johnson gambled that precedent allowed him to prevent the British Parliament from being convened during the weeks prior to Brexit, and therefore prevent them from taking steps to restrict his authority. His ability to do that was challenged at the UK Supreme Court, and his decision was overturned yesterday in a unanimous ruling.
The court found that while Johnson’s authority to prorogate (suspend) the Parliament was valid, his use of that authority without sufficient reason was not.
Preventing them from performing their legally required duties is not an acceptable reason, which is why Johnson’s allies argued that the suspension was unconnected to Brexit. The decision brushed that aside, saying that the political impetus for the action was irrelevant, and rather that the rationale was key. On that matter, the justices found he was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying parliament”
The judgement negates their prorogation and calls Parliament members back to work. They are returning today.
Boris Johnson was in New York yesterday where he received a strong statement of support from President Trump.
Last night he returned to the UK, where he is scheduled to speak before Parliament today. His decision earlier this month to effectively discharge some MPs from the Tory ranks encouraged some to officially leave, resulting in him losing the majority in Parliament.
This does not mean that Johnson has lost all of his support from the British people. He is still pressing for a general election, which would provide a chance for some of the Conservative Party (Tories) members who are not on board with his decisions to be replaced by Johnson-friendly MPs and might restore his majority. As the decision to call for an early election lies with Parliament, the likelihood that he gets his wish is extremely low.
Without a majority, and amidst questions of whether he lied to the Queen in order to push the prorogation through and multiple calls for resignation – including from members of his own party – it remains to be seen how long he can maintain power.