LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted lawfully when he ordered the suspension of parliament for five weeks before Brexit, London’s High Court ruled on Friday, but it allowed the the legal challenge to be taken to the Supreme Court.
Johnson announced at the end of August that he would suspend parliament from mid-September to mid-October, just before Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, so the government could announce a new legislative programme.
But the move enraged opponents who accused him of seeking to silence parliament, and prompted campaigner Gina Miller to challenge the order, arguing that the House of Commons should be sitting during such a momentous time in the country’s history.
Miller, who previously defeated the government in court over another Brexit issue two years ago, was backed by former Conservative Prime Minister John Major and some opposition politicians.
“We feel strongly that parliamentary sovereignty is fundamental to the stability and future of our country and is therefore worth fighting to defend,” she said after the hearing.
“We are therefore pleased that the judges have given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on the grounds that our case has merit.”
The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on Sept. 17.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Johnson welcomed the ruling.
“We hope that those seeking to use the judiciary to frustrate the government take note of it and of the Court of Sessions ruling earlier this week (in Scotland) and withdraw their cases,” she said.
More than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum, Brexit remains up in the air, with options ranging from a last-minute divorce deal, a turbulent no-deal exit or abandoning the whole endeavour altogether.
Miller’s lawyer, David Pannick, said comments from Johnson showed an important part of his reasoning for the prorogation, or suspension, was that parliament might say or do something that impeded the government’s Brexit plans.
Johnson, who took office in July, has promised to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
Government lawyer James Eadie had said the question of suspension was not a matter for the courts.
He said Pannick’s central argument was that lawmakers would not be able to legislate over a no-deal Brexit but that events of recent days “indicate that is just untenable” and rendered the proceedings “slightly pointless”.
Lawmakers voted this week to force Johnson to seek a three-month delay to Brexit rather than leave without an agreement on Oct. 31, a move that could lead to an election.
Separate legal challenges to Johnson’s Brexit plans are also being heard in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In Belfast, lawyers for local rights activist Raymond McCord argued Britain should not be allowed to leave the EU without a deal because it was not provided for in existing legislation and would be incompatible with Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace accord.
“To leave without a deal will cause chaos, economic misery and threaten the Northern Ireland peace process. It would be madness,” said Ronan Lavery, lawyer for McCord, whose son was killed during the three decades of violence the peace deal largely ended.
Additional reporting by Ian Graham in Belfast; editing by Stephen Addison