Brexit 5: the week it got nasty

Supreme Court Ruling

On Tuesday, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Government’s decision to prorogue Parliament was illegal. Lady Hale said the unanimous decision of the 11 justices meant Parliament had effectively not been prorogued – the decision was null and of no effect. The court concluded that it was wrong to stop MPs carrying out duties in the run-up to the Brexit deadline on 31 October, and the PM, who faced calls to resign, said he “profoundly disagreed” with the ruling but would “respect” it. As a result, Parliament returned from prorogation on Wednesday and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox made a statement, saying that he was “disappointed” at the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court. Mr Cox faced calls from opposition MPs to publish the legal advice he gave the government ahead of the suspension, to which Cox said that the government believed its approach had been “both lawful and constitutional”, but he would “consider over the coming days whether the public interest may require a greater disclosure” of his advice. On Thursday, the Government requested a three-day recess whilst the Conservatives stage their annual party conference, and this was rejected by MPs by 306 votes to 289.

Labour Conference

The Labour Party conference finished on Wednesday with a number of bold policy announcements, including a introducing a four-day working week, getting rid of private schools, scrapping universal credit, abolishing the school’s inspectorate, an end to prescription charges, free care for elderly people and free nursery places for toddlers. The Party voted to adopt its leader’s neutral stance on Brexit in the event of a future referendum on a new deal negotiated by a Labour Government. In a wide-ranging party conference speech, Corbyn said Labour is the only major UK party ready to trust the people to have the final say on Brexit and said that he will not back an election until a no-deal Brexit is ruled out. In his speech, Corbyn also announced a major new policy: a state-owned generic drug manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to the NHS to stop big pharmaceutical companies overcharging the NHS for medicines.

Calls for Johnson’s resignation

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition have called upon Boris Johnson to resign as Prime Minister. The SNP and some Labour MPs said Mr Johnson could be ousted via a no-confidence vote, if he refused to go. On Wednesday, Johnson brushed aside repeated demands to resign or apologise as he attacked the 11 judges who found his suspension of parliament unlawful, dismissing their unanimous ruling. He then faced even more criticism after he dismissed accusations of trying to whip up public hostility against MPs by suggesting they were unpatriotic as “humbug”.

PM accused of riling up the far-right

Around Westminster there were concerns that parliamentary debate fell to a new low this week. As the chamber reached a peak of anger and emotion, the Prime Minister was berated for his use of inflammatory language including his coinage of the term ‘Surrender Bill’ for Hillary Benn’s provision to force another Brexit extension.  He was asked to remember the late MP Jo Cox, and to bear in mind the impact of political game playing on the lives and safety of parliamentarians, their staff and families. His response that the best way to honour Jo Cox was ‘to get Brexit done’ was derided as insensitive and even callous from MPs and commentators alike and Jo’s husband Brendan pleaded with the Prime Minister and all parliamentarians to avoid overblown rhetoric in order to prevent further violence.

Brexit update

Going forward, the Prime Minister will be legally obliged to ask the EU for a Brexit day if no deal is agreed between the UK and the EU by 19 October. Johnson claims that progress is being made on negotiating a deal with the aim to get the backstop removed, with some discussions taking place that a possible option could be to go for a Northern Ireland-only backstop. There is no guarantee that the other EU countries will agree to an extension, so the UK could still leave the EU without a deal on 31 October. There could still be a Queen’s speech on 14 October in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling and after that, the House of Commons might be asked again by the Government to back an early general election. An alternative route for the government would be a short new law specifying the date of an early general election.

Brussels prepared for a new Brexit extension

In light of the events of the past weeks, it seems now to clear to Brussels negotiators that the chances of a new Brexit deal being agreed by mid-October have dissolved. The EU-UK technical talks have been ongoing in the past few weeks but not enough progress has been made to signal the possibility of getting a new deal done in time for the upcoming European Council of 17th October. Strong reticence on the UK plans to replace the Irish backstop has been showed by EU negotiators due to the fact that these plans did not meet the EU criteria of safeguarding the Northern Ireland peace process and the single market. Similarly, in the rare eventuality that a new deal can be agreed, EU negotiators believe that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to impose this deal to the “angry, divided House of Commons”. Therefore, Brussels and EU leaders now believe that a new three-month Brexit extension will be the next step. However, it won’t be an easy one, as, while the UK Parliament may have passed a law forcing the government to request a new extension if a Brexit deal is not agreed by mid-October, it seems clear that Boris Johnson does not want to go down this road. EU leaders will however agree to an extension, provided that a way forward is made clear, should it be a general election, a second referendum or a Withdrawal Agreement.