‘Parliament is dead,’ says attorney general as Brexit chaos deepens

Updated 26 Sep 2019

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London: A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s recording unit shows legislators gathered for resumption of the House of Commons on Wednesday. — AFP
London: A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s recording unit shows legislators gathered for resumption of the House of Commons on Wednesday. — AFP

LONDON: Boris Johnson’s attorney general said the British parliament was “dead” in a defiant outburst after lawmakers were recalled following a Supreme Court ruling that the prime minister’s suspension of the assembly was unlawful.

The comments by Geoffrey Cox, the first cabinet member to address the chamber since parliament resumed on Wednesday, prompted outrage among Johnson’s opponents seeking to stop him taking Britain out of the EU without a deal.

Britain faces an Oct 31 departure deadline, but after three years of political crisis it remains unclear when, if or on what terms the it will leave the bloc it joined in 1973.

In one of the most humiliating rulings for a prime minister in recent British history, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday that Johnson acted illegally in advising Queen Elizabeth to suspend parliament and had undermined the fundamentals of democracy.

Johnson’s response was defiance.

He rejected calls to resign, insisted that Brexit would take place on Oct 31 and quipped that some in parliament were seeking to turn Brexit into torment — comparing himself to the Greek mythical figure Prometheus whose liver was repeatedly eaten by an eagle.

Ahead of Johnson’s own appearance before lawmakers, Cox said parliament was a disgrace and the prime minister’s opponents were cowards for avoiding an election and trying to block Brexit.

“This parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit,” Cox told the House of Commons. “This parliament should have the courage to face the electorate. But it won’t.” “It won’t because so many of them are really all about preventing us leaving the European Union at all costs,” said Cox, the man who gave Johnson the legal advice on suspending parliament.

Some lawmakers shouted and jeered. Others booed. Under questioning, Cox, known for his resonant, booming voice, said the government would comply with a law forcing the prime minister to request a Brexit delay if no deal was struck.

Having lost his majority and a series of votes about Brexit in the House of Commons, Johnson had suspended the legislature for five weeks. But the country’s top court the closure was void.

Before the suspension, an alliance of opposition lawmakers backed by rebel members of Johnson’s Conservative Party forced through a law requiring him to ask the EU to push back the deadline if no exit deal was agreed by Oct 19.

“We simply cannot afford to wait until the 19th of October to see whether the prime minister will refuse to obey the law again,” said Jo Swinson, leader of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, adding that opponents did not trust Johnson to obey the legislation.

The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said now was not the time for parliament to try to bring Johnson down because the priority was to rule out an EU exit without an agreement.

Under questioning, Attorney General Cox said that the government would soon move a motion calling for an election.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2019