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Q&A: Preventing the unlawful shutdown of Parliament

Posted on 14 July 2019

Q&A: Preventing the unlawful shutdown of Parliament

Q. What legal steps have you taken so far?

A. A letter has been sent to Boris Johnson MP and copied to the Attorney General and the Cabinet Secretary. This letter has been sent on behalf of Gina Miller by her legal team which includes Mishcon de Reya, Lord Pannick QC and Tom Hickman QC.

Q. What are the next steps?

A. The letter calls for Mr Johnson to confirm that he will not advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament before 1 November 2019 for the purpose of preventing Parliament from considering the enactment of a law to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal. If Mr Johnson is not willing to do this, the letter asks for at least seven days' notice of any intention to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament so that the legality of such advice can be tested in the courts on an urgent basis.

Q. Why are you doing this?

A. Mr Johnson has refused to rule out proroguing Parliament if he becomes Prime Minister. Prorogation closes a Parliamentary session preventing MPs from voting on legislation. Previous votes in the House of Commons show that Parliament does not endorse a no-deal Brexit. If Parliament were closed down it would not have the opportunity to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit before the 31 October deadline. This would be constitutionally unacceptable and unlawful.

Q. Why would this be constitutionally unacceptable and unlawful?

A. Prorogation involves the exercise of prerogative powers. These powers cannot be exercised in a way that goes against fundamental constitutional principles. Namely, that parliament is sovereign and that any legislation enacted by Parliament is supreme. To close the doors of Parliament to prevent it from legislating on the most important political issue of the day – the manner in which the United Kingdom exits the European Union – would plainly be against the law.

Q. Boris Johnson is not yet confirmed as the next Prime Minister. Why now?

A. Mr Johnson has been provided with multiple opportunities – including in recent televised public debates – to declare his intention with respect to proroguing Parliament. He has refused to rule it out. Time is running out. The next Prime Minister will be announced on 23 July. This leaves precious little time before the 31 October deadline.

Q. Is this the same as the Article 50 legal challenge from 2016?

A. No. This is a different and separate legal matter. However the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, confirmed by the Supreme Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017], is crucial to our client's assertion that proroguing Parliament and stopping it from enacting law to avoid a no-deal Brexit is unlawful.

Q. Are you trying to stop Brexit?

A. No. This action seeks to preserve the sovereignty of Parliament and to prevent the abuse of prerogative powers. Allowing Parliament to enact law with respect to the manner in which the United Kingdom exits the European Union does not prevent the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union.

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