Final day in U.K. Supreme Court case against Johnson’s suspension of Parliament

The U.K.’s Supreme Court will hear a third and final day of legal arguments on Thursday over whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when he suspended Parliament in the run-up to Brexit.

If Johnson loses, he may be compelled to recall Parliament earlier than scheduled, giving additional time for legislators to scrutinize and oppose his plans to lead Britain out of the EU, with or without a divorce deal, on Oct. 31.

The court’s ruling could come late on Thursday at the earliest, but is more likely to be delivered in the following days. The 11 justices have given no indication of how long they would take.

Before the suspension, Johnson suffered one defeat after another in Parliament, where he has no majority. Most members of the House of Commons are opposed to a so-called “no-deal Brexit” scenario, predicting that it would cause economic damage and severe disruption, including to food and medicine supply chains.

The hearing in the Supreme Court stems from Johnson’s decision to ask Queen Elizabeth to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament from Sept. 10 to Oct. 14, on the grounds that he needed the time to prepare a new legislative agenda.

Johnson’s opponents contend the real reason he sought the suspension was to prevent Parliament from interfering with his Brexit strategy, and therefore he unlawfully misled the sovereign with his advice.

Under the U.K.’s complex, uncodified constitution, Parliament is sovereign, although the exact scope of that sovereignty has been subject to legal debate during the Supreme Court hearing.

A protester, wrapped in a Union Jack flag, is seen outside the U.K.’s Supreme Court in London on Wednesday. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Lawyers representing the prime minister told the court during the two previous days of hearings that the dispute over the suspension was a political issue, not a matter for judges, and that Johnson’s purpose was not improper.

They also signalled if he lost the case, he could ask the Queen to recall Parliament. However, they gave little clarity as to exactly how or when that would happen and what else the prime minister might do.

On Thursday, the court will hear arguments from lawyers representing various people and bodies who are not parties to the legal dispute but whose views are considered relevant and important. They include the semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

There will also be an intervention on behalf of John Major, a former prime minister whose years in office between 1990 and 1997 were marked by bitter divisions and conflict within his own Conservative Party over Britain’s relations with the EU.

Johnson is also a Conservative prime minister, and the party is more divided than ever over the EU issue.

Major, who famously described some of his own anti-EU cabinet members as “bastards,” has argued vigorously that the U.K. should remain in the EU and has warned a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the nation. He has sided against Johnson in the Supreme Court case.

U.K. urges EU to be ‘flexible’

The country’s Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay urged the EU to show flexibility and creativity over Brexit on Thursday, saying the Irish backstop arrangement “has to go” and that the country was prepared to leave without a deal if needed.

The backstop is aimed at keeping an open border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland. There are fears conflict could ignite between the two Irelands again if no agreement is reached and a hard border is put in place.

The U.K. wants a deal, but both sides must work to reach one, Barclay said.

“The prize of a deal should focus the minds of both sides on this need for creativity and flexibility,” he said.

“So let’s work creatively to secure a deal, a deal the U.K. is committed to get in, a deal without a backstop … a deal which indeed will pass both the U.K. Parliament and the European Parliament.”

Barclay’s comments came as Ireland said Thursday that the U.K. had failed to supply credible Brexit proposals, adding there had been no breakthrough at talks Wednesday night with the Northern Irish party, which props up Johnson’s government.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said there was growing frustration in the EU that London had not yet tabled proposals on an alternative to the Irish border backstop.

“We need to get credible proposals that we simply haven’t seen yet,” he said, adding there had been no breakthrough at talks overnight.

London falters as top financial centre

Meanwhile, a new survey released Thursday indicates the fallout from Brexit is starting to impact London’s standing as one of the world’s top financial centres, with the capital now barely holding on to second place ahead of Hong Kong. 

A Z/Yen Group survey for 2019 showed that New York extended its lead over London to 17 points, while a strong performances from other centres, in particular Paris, put London’s second place in the index at risk, compilers of the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) said in a statement.

In a new study, London barely held on to second place as a global financial hub as uncertainty over Brexit appears to be taking its toll on the U.K. capital. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Hong Kong is now just two points behind London, where a key issue for finance professional is whether Britain’s departure from the EU will impede the free movement of talent, it added.

The GFCI index rated 114 financial centres, combining assessments from finance sector professionals with data.

“Respondents consider that New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore will benefit substantially from Brexit. In Europe, Frankfurt is considered likely to benefit most, followed by Paris, Luxembourg, Zurich, and Dublin.”

Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Dubai, Shenzhen, and Sydney make up the remainder of the top 10 centres. The rise of Shenzhen, Dubai and Sydney eased out Toronto, Zurich and Frankfurt from the top 10.