Johnson forced to fly home to face anger of parliament

A chastened Boris Johnson will fly back to London on Wednesday to face calls for his resignation after Britain’s Supreme Court overruled his attempt to stop MPs from debating Brexit, in a ruling that one senior minister called a “constitutional coup”.

The prime minister was forced to cut short a visit to New York after Britain’s highest court ruled unanimously that his advice to the Queen to suspend parliament for five weeks was unlawful. MPs return to Westminster on Wednesday seeking retribution. 

In a damning indictment of Mr Johnson, Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court, said, “The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme” because it stopped MPs exercising their constitutional role of holding the government to account.

But the ruling provoked fury from Eurosceptics, some of whom believe the judges are part of a pro-Remain establishment elite intent on stopping Brexit. Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, told cabinet colleagues on a conference call on Tuesday night that the decision amounted to a “constitutional coup”.

Mr Rees-Mogg will speak for the government when MPs reconvene at Westminster at 11.30am on Wednesday. Mr Johnson, who arrives back from a visit to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, is also expected to make a Commons statement.

Mr Johnson said he “profoundly disagreed” with the ruling but respected the outcome; he is now left trapped in Downing Street and facing a hostile House of Commons, which has already defeated him on six occasions.

British officials said Mr Johnson spoke to the Queen on Tuesday but declined to say whether he had apologised for dragging her into the Brexit turmoil.

US president Donald Trump, who met Mr Johnson in the margins of the UN in New York, said it was “just another day in the office”, but Mr Johnson faces a torrid time at Westminster, where MPs will expect an apology and demand his resignation.

MPs could also use the return of parliament at 11.30am on Wednesday to seek an explanation from the prime minister over his close relationship, while London mayor, with a female US tech entrepreneur who received more than £100,000 in public money.

“This unelected prime minister should now resign,” said Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, speaking at his party conference. “That would make him the shortest-serving British prime minister in history, and rightly so.”

In three months as prime minister Mr Johnson has suffered an unprecedented defeat in the Supreme Court, lost his parliamentary majority, expelled 21 Tory MPs, seen the resignation of his brother from the government, and had his Brexit strategy torn to shreds.

Tory MPs have privately called for the sacking of Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who has masterminded the abrasive “do or die” Brexit strategy.

Others have called for the head of Geoffrey Cox, attorney-general, a criminal barrister upon whose legal advice Mr Johnson decided to press ahead with the suspension — or prorogation — of parliament.

One minister said: “He told the PM prorogation would be legal, it wasn’t. It’s hard to see how he can be trusted again.” 

Mr Johnson held crisis talks with his cabinet on Tuesday evening. But the prime minister said he would not quit and Labour and other opposition parties are holding back from tabling a vote of no confidence, preferring to leave the prime minister in office and waiting for him to extend the Article 50 Brexit process.

Mr Johnson, unable to force an early election and with a law enacted to stop a no-deal exit, now appears convinced that the only way out of his predicament is to secure a Brexit deal in Brussels next month.

“The exciting thing for us is to get a good deal,” he said, although Britain and the EU are a long way apart on substance. If Mr Johnson cannot secure a deal, he would be forced by law to seek a delay to Brexit — something he has vowed not to do.

The ruling by the Supreme Court that Mr Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was illegal makes it highly likely that the judges would intervene again if he tried to defy the law and force through a no-deal exit on October 31 while parliament was suspended. Downing Street denied he had ever considered such a move.

Lady Hale said the court had concluded 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”. 

The court ruling is a landmark decision for the Supreme Court, which has now laid down a marker that courts have a wider ability to take a view of political decisions made by governments. 

The case is also a huge victory for anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller and 70 parliamentarians who brought separate legal challenges in English and Scottish courts arguing that the prorogation was unlawful. Ms Miller was supported in her legal battle by John Major, the former Tory prime minister.

Sir John said Mr Johnson owed parliament an “unreserved apology”. He added: “No prime minister must ever treat the monarch or parliament in this way again.”

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