LONDON — In a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain’s highest court ruled Tuesday that his decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the crucial countdown to the country’s Brexit deadline was illegal.
The unanimous Supreme Court ruling declared the order to suspend Parliament “void and of no effect.”
Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said the suspension “was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
She said the court’s decision means Parliament was never legally suspended and is technically still sitting.
In this nation without a written constitution, the case marked a rare confrontation between the prime minister, the courts and Parliament over their rights and responsibilities.
It revolved around whether Johnson acted lawfully when he advised the queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks during a crucial time frame before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Johnson, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, has refused to say whether he will resign if he is found to have broken the law, or will seek to shut down Parliament again.
The decision followed three days of hearings last week before a panel of 11 judges.
The court rejected the government’s assertions that the decision to suspend Parliament until Oct. 14 was routine and not related to Brexit. It claimed that under Britain’s unwritten constitution, it is a matter for politicians, not courts, to decide.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans.
They also accused Johnson of misleading the queen, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson and Parliament have been at odds since he took power in July with the determination to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal with Europe.