Britain is facing unprecedented political chaos when Parliament reopens on Wednesday after the country’s Supreme Court delivered a surprise decision that threw Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy into turmoil.
In a unanimous ruling on Tuesday, the court’s 11 judges quashed Mr. Johnson’s move to shut down Parliament until Oct. 14. The judges said there was no justification for such a lengthy prorogation and ruled it “unlawful, void and of no effect.”
The court “is bound to conclude that the decision to advise her majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said in a summary of the ruling.
The decision – which the Prime Minister grudgingly said he would honour – has left Mr. Johnson under increasing pressure and has set up a fresh round of confrontation with a rebel alliance of opposition MPs and some Conservatives. The Prime Minister has been at odds with parliamentarians for months over his plan to pull Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 – with or without a withdrawal agreement.
Mr. Johnson has been fighting a losing battle, and his position in the House of Commons has steadily weakened since he took over as Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister in July. He has lost every vote in Parliament, and his minority government has been rendered powerless through the defection of two Tory MPs and the expulsion of 21 others. And now the country’s highest court has admonished him for trying to cut off parliamentary scrutiny.
The ruling has emboldened opposition MPs, who immediately called on the Prime Minister to resign.
“I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position,” Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told a party conference after the ruling. “This unelected Prime Minister should now resign.”
Rebel Tory MP Dominic Grieve said Mr. Johnson should reflect “on the untold damage he is doing to our institutions." The Prime Minister “has done this through his reckless and relentless desire to achieve Brexit on the 31st of October.”
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision and ordered MPs to resuming sitting on Wednesday.
But it’s not clear what the rebel MPs will do next. They’ve already passed a law that prevents Britain from leaving the EU without a deal by compelling Mr. Johnson to seek a three-month extension to the Oct. 31 deadline if he hasn’t reached a deal by Oct. 19. Beyond that, the opposition has not come to a coherent position on Brexit.
Some MPs have pushed for a second referendum on Brexit, while others want to revoke Brexit altogether and keep Britain in the EU. There have also been calls for a vote of non-confidence in Mr. Johnson’s government. If that were to succeed, the opposition could try to form a caretaker government that would last through the Oct. 31 deadline and a subsequent election.
Mr. Johnson “must resign. And if he doesn’t resign, then Parliament has got to do that for him,” said Ian Blackford, the parliamentary leader for the Scottish National Party. “Parliament must remove Boris Johnson as prime minister.”
However, it’s not clear that enough MPs would vote to bring down the government if Mr. Corbyn was in line to take over as a caretaker prime minister. The Liberal Democrats have refused to back Mr. Corbyn, as have most rebel Tory MPs.
Mr. Johnson said he respected the court ruling but vowed to press ahead with his plan to leave the EU by Oct. 31. “I have to say that I strongly disagree with what the justices have found,” he told reporters in New York on Tuesday, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly. “I don’t think that it’s right, but we will go ahead and of course Parliament will come back.”
He has argued that the reason he moved to prorogue Parliament was so he could begin a new session with a throne speech to outline his priorities. He indicated on Tuesday that he still intended to do that by proroguing Parliament for a brief period – likely only a few days. “I don’t think the justices remotely excluded the possibility of having a Queen’s speech, but what we will certainly do is ensure Parliament has plenty of time to debate Brexit,” he said. He has also ruled out seeking any extension to the Brexit deadline, despite the law passed by Parliament.
Mr. Johnson has also insisted that he still wants to strike a withdrawal agreement with the EU. The key stumbling block remains the Irish backstop, a safety net designed to keep the Irish border open by aligning Northern Ireland largely to EU regulations and keeping the rest of the United Kingdom in the bloc’s customs union. The backstop would remain in place until the EU and the U.K. negotiate a trade deal, but Mr. Johnson wants to scrap the provision, arguing it keeps the country too closely tied to the EU. However, EU negotiators say he has yet to offer any workable alternatives. “I see no particular reason today, to be honest, for optimism,” EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters on Tuesday.
While Mr. Johnson appears to be cornered in Parliament and at loggerheads with the EU, his standing with the British public has improved. Analysts say his fight with Parliament has bolstered his support among people who are fed up with the Brexit debate.