Ex-PM Major to take Johnson to court over suspension of Parliament
Former prime minister Sir John Major intends to fight Boris Johnson in the courts over his plan to suspend Parliament.
The ex-Tory leader promised to seek a judicial review if the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament to prevent MPs opposing his Brexit plans.
He will now seek to join a legal challenge being brought by campaigner Gina Miller.
Sir John suggested his experience in Number 10 could assist the High Court in deciding whether Mr Johnson’s actions are lawful.
Businesswoman Ms Miller – who previously took the Government to court over the triggering of Article 50 to start the Brexit process – said the case would be heard on September 5.
The Prime Minister has ordered a suspension of Parliament for up to five weeks before a Queen’s Speech on October 14.
Opponents claimed the move was aimed at stopping discussion of Brexit and hampering cross-party efforts to block the prospect of a no-deal withdrawal from the European Union – an allegation denied by Mr Johnson.
“In view of the imminence of the prorogation – and to avoid duplication of effort and taking up the court’s time through repetition – I intend to seek the court’s permission to intervene in the claim already initiated by Gina Miller, rather than to commence separate proceedings,” Sir John said.
“If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the court from the perspective of having served in Government as a minister and prime minister, and also in Parliament for many years as a member of the House of Commons.”
In a separate legal case in Scotland, judge Lord Doherty rejected a call for an interim interdict to block the suspension of Parliament but said a full hearing would take place on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, opponents of Mr Johnson’s strategy appear increasingly confident of finding a way to block a no-deal Brexit despite the prospect of Parliament shutting down temporarily.
Opposition leaders in the Commons have agreed to seek a legislative change when MPs return to Westminster on Tuesday.
Tory rebel ringleader Sir Oliver Letwin said he had been in talks with Speaker John Bercow about the parliamentary procedures that will apply.
The former minister said he believes “there probably is time” to get a measure to block a no-deal Brexit through Parliament despite the temporary shutdown, which will begin in the second week of September.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it would be “foolhardy” to predict the outcome of any votes.
But he added: “I know that there are a number of my colleagues who feel as I do, that a disorderly no-deal exit is a very bad idea, and they have in the past been willing to come and support efforts to prevent that happening and I very much hope that will happen again.”
Sir Oliver said the move could force Mr Johnson to delay Brexit beyond the October 31 deadline unless there is a Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.
He rejected claims the measure would weaken the Government’s hand in negotiations with Brussels.
On the Labour side, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti said: “My own soundings and those of colleagues in discussions over the last couple of days, in particular since the constitutional outrage, give me greater comfort that minds are now focused, especially on the Conservative side.”
She told Today there were ways of preventing filibusters and “any sort of public school dirty tricks” aimed at blocking legislation when it reaches the Lords.
But Mr Johnson’s de facto deputy dismissed the furore over the prorogation move.
Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab said: “The idea this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps hit out at the efforts to block a no-deal Brexit, saying unless you are prepared to walk away from negotiations “you are unlikely to get a great deal”.
“I think for Sir Oliver and others to try to stymie that is entirely counter-productive,” he told Today.
The prospect of an explosive Commons battle next week came as Mr Johnson called for both the UK and EU to “step up the tempo” in talks.
Downing Street said the UK’s team of Brexit negotiators will sit down with their EU counterparts twice a week during September “with the possibility of additional technical meetings, to discuss a way forward on securing a new deal”.
But Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said so far the UK had not put forward any “credible” alternatives to the backstop – the contingency plan aimed at preventing a hard border with the UK.
“It can’t simply be this notion that ‘look, we must have the backstop removed and we will solve this problem in the future negotiation’ without any credible way of doing that,” he said.
“That’s not going to fly and it’s important that we are all honest about that.”
Brussels again demanded “concrete proposals” that were “compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has encouraged his MPs to join public protests against a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “There are also public protests across the country this Saturday, there will be a rally in Parliament Square on Tuesday evening, and I encourage Labour MPs to be present and to share our message.”