Time is running out: If no one takes something decisive against it, Britain flies in a few weeks from the EU. No matter whether the kingdom is covered by a Brexit agreement or not, it is over on 31 October.
Admittedly British MEPs have asked Boris Johnson to apply for a moratorium on the withdrawal date in Brussels if necessary. But the EU would have to agree first. And anyway: Who knows in this premier, whether he can be destroyed by a law his most important election pledge. The British will leave in late October, Johnson has been repeating for weeks. It is his mantra.
So there is still a lot to talk about and argue in the United Kingdom. But in the top house of the debate, the British Parliament, nothing is happening these days.
Where the opposition and government have fiercely fought over Brexit for years, banks have been empty since the beginning of last week. Just now, in the face of a historic decision.
Guilt is the so-called prorogation, a forced break, Johnson has imposed on the deputies. By 14 October, the announcement says, Parliament can no longer meet. For many observers it is clear: The maneuver is an attempt to shut down the lower house so that no one gets in the way of the Brexit government.
This is what Scotland's supreme court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh, sees it. Johnson's prorogation, the judges said Wednesday, is "unlawful because it was intended to hamper parliament."
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Did the prime minister act illegally? Did he even lie? These questions are now the subject of Britain's Supreme Court in the last resort. This Tuesday begins the three-day trial. The verdict could have consequences – for Johnson's career, for Brexit, for the political power structure on the island. The most important questions and answers.
What exactly are you accusing Johnson of
It is quite common in Britain for Parliament to be suspended. This usually happens once a year. The break ends a session and allows Downing Street to present the program for the next phase of government with a subsequent speech by the Queen. Normally, these breaks last only a few days and are not imposed against the wishes of most MPs – and certainly not in such volatile political times.
Johnson, however, wants to shut down parliamentary operations for about five weeks. There would hardly be any time left for MEPs to intervene in the Brexit process. The suspicion is obvious that it was the prime minister. The Scottish judges believe this is an unlawful attempt to block parliamentary scrutiny of the executive.
Johnson and his people have always justified their decision by having to put forward a new agenda for the future, after a now lengthy government phase. On this ground, they asked the queen, who is formally responsible, to order the prorogation. Did you mislead the monarch? It would be a monstrous abuse of the queen, who actually has to stay out of political affairs.
What is the legal situation?
Opposition politicians and activists responded with several complaints to Johnson's frontal attack. The High Court in London, unlike its Scottish counterparts, said the suspension of Parliament was a purely political matter. The judiciary is therefore not responsible. The court in Edinburgh, on the other hand, claims to be in a position to decide on the step of the prime minister. However, it left open how and when Parliament should reunite. There is no concrete rule for this.
The Supreme Court now also decides on a legal dilemma: May the judiciary give instructions on the occasions and duration of a parliament break? In this case, she would automatically intervene in politics.
What impact can the verdict have?
For Johnson this is already a problem. Even if he wins in court – the opposition has already worked at length on the prime minister. The suspicion that he wanted to pass the parliament, Johnson would not get rid of so fast.
It gets really tight for him if the judges certify him unlawful behavior. In this case, demand Johnson's critics, the Tory boss must resign. In normal times, any prime minister would probably do so in such a situation. But there is hardly anything normal in Westminster at the moment. If Johnson joins his office, the opposition could seize the opportunity for a no-confidence vote.
Either way, if the court decides against the government, then MEPs are allowed to reunite immediately. They could then work on their own initiatives to secure a deal with the EU. And they have plenty of time to make further arrangements to hold Johnson to account – if, for example, it becomes clear that the prime minister wants to bypass the law against a tough Brexit. In addition, presumably, the upcoming party congress would be canceled in order not to lose session time.
But in the end, it's also about fundamental questions: How and when can parliament and the judiciary control the government? And what is the value of the jurisdiction of the Scottish judges? Because even this is clear: Should the verdict from Edinburgh be overruled in the end, that should give the already resurgent independence movement in the north further boost.