Ex-PM Who Suspended Parliament Joins Legal Challenge to Boris Suspending Parliament

Boris
Jeff J Mitchell-WPA Pool/Getty Images

Sir John Major, the former British Prime Minister who prorogued Parliament in 1997 for allegedly cynical political reasons, has himself joined a legal effort against Boris Johnson for using the same constitutional mechanism.

The former Conservative prime minister, who was the Europhile leader responsible for signing the United Kingdom up to the newly established European Union in 1993 through the controversial Maastricht Treaty, announced he would be joining a legal action brought against the government on Friday morning.

While Sir John had previously promised to launch his own action, he instead decided to join one brought by anti-Brexit lawfare veteran Gina Miller, whose court cases have already succeeded in upending the Brexit process.

The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that he would be proroguing — Westminster jargon for temporarily suspending — Parliament for a five-week break over September and October, a move confirmed by the Queen at a Privy Council meeting in Scotland later that day.

Despite the length of the prorogation, it takes place over a period that was already earmarked for a parliamentary recess (holiday), and according to the BBC only something between “three and eight” actual working days will be lost.

Anti-Brexit campaigners claim the timing of Boris Johnson’s prorogation is intended to deny them parliamentary time to launch legislation to sabotage the Brexit process.

This is despite the original calls for the use of prorogation to safeguard Brexit suggesting the suspension should take place while Brexit happens, not in the weeks leading up to it, and the short amount of actual parliamentary time being lost to the shutdown.

The Prime Minister’s team, for their part, insist the prorogation is not informed by Brexit but rather in spite of it, ending the longest parlimentary session for 400 years to allow the government to bring forward a new policy programme covering a variety of areas including healthcare and policing.

Tory chairman James Cleverley said the development was unsensational, summarising it as “Government to hold a Queen’s Speech, just as all new Governments do.”

Sir John challenging the present leader of his own party in court comes despite his having been accused of using the prorogation mechanism for political ends himself when he was Prime Minister.

It is claimed at the time of his suspending Parliament in 1997 that he had done so to delay the publication of a report into Members of Parliament allegedly taking cash in a corrupt manner — a major scandal at the time — in the run-up to that year’s election.

When the idea of suspending Parliament to defend Brexit first gained traction earlier in the year Sir John said, apparently without irony, that “the idea of proroguing Parliament is utterly and totally unacceptable from any British parliamentarian or democrat. I for one would be prepared to go and seek judicial review to prevent Parliament being bypassed.”

Sir John has also allied himself with other senior Remain figures to frustrate Brexit, the historic democratic decision taken by the British people in 2016 by a margin of over one million votes.

In 2018, Major joined fellow former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as Michael Hesseltine and Nick Clegg, to call for a second referendum to overturn the first — despite having previously ruled this out.

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