Queen dragged into shutdown of Commons row
Is Boris Johnson guilty of treason? If the Supreme Court follows the Scottish court and finds that he misled the Queen, there could scarcely be a more serious constitutional case to be made.
Poor Queen Elizabeth II.
Her first Prime Minister: Winston Churchill.
Her latest Prime Minister: someone held by the senior courts of one constituent nation of the United Kingdom to have lied to her.
What a decline.
The fact that anyone could write these words is extraordinary enough. The fact that they were written this morning by The Financial Times commentator on law and policy, David Allen Green, adds weight to the accusation.
Boris Johnson today is resisting growing demands to recall Parliament after an explosive ruling by Scotland’s top court that he had broken the law and misled the Queen by shutting down the Commons for five weeks.
The constitutional crisis facing the Prime Minister intensified when the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the lengthy suspension was an “improper” attempt to prevent MPs from discussing Brexit.
Johnson said he asked permission from the Queen to prorogue Parliament in preparation to set out his new legislative programme on 14 October, and insisted the move was unconnected to Brexit.
But the Scottish court unanimously ruled that the prorogation “was motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament”.
It added that the advice given by ministers to the Queen which led to the suspension was, therefore, “unlawful and is thus null and of no effect”.
Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government think-tank, said, “This has caused major embarrassment for the Queen and for Buckingham Palace. For a court to rule that the advice given to the Queen was unlawful, even if the ruling is later rejected, opens up questions about how that advice is given. She has to be able to trust Number 10.”
Its ruling was at odds with the High Court in England which said that the shutdown was not illegal even if it was motivated by the desire for “political advantage”. The controversy will come to a head next Tuesday at the UK’s Supreme Court in London.
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, said there would be a “strong case” for impeaching Mr Johnson – a penalty last used against an MP 213 years ago – if the Supreme Court rules that he acted unlawfully.
The Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “Boris Johnson has lied to every other woman in his life. Why he’d make an exception for The Queen seems unlikely.”
Might Boris Johnson even have committed treason?
Off with his head
Under the law of the United Kingdom, high treason is the crime of disloyalty to the Crown and the punishment is life imprisonment. Hanging, drawing and quartering was the usual punishment until the 19th century. Some commentators, mainly in the USA, are asking this morning about whether deliberately misleading the Queen could make Johnson guilty of treason.
This is a fanciful idea, say wiser minds. The law of treason is extremely ancient and complicated. Did you know, for example, that there are more than 10 Treason Acts still in force? It may technically be part of our legal system, but it will probably never be used again. Johnson may be forced to bring back Parliament next week and he may lose an election. In British democracy, it is the court of public opinion that will deliver his ultimate “punishment”.
- Does the Queen still matter in political life?
- Is it wrong for a Prime Minister to put the Queen in an awkward political position?
- Draw an old-fashioned “Wanted for High Treason” poster, proclaiming the charges against Boris Johnson.
- Research the last treason trial in Britain: William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”, who was executed by hanging in 1946. Write a one-page essay, explaining who Lord Haw-Haw was, and what he did wrong.
Some People Say...
“Many people are saying — I’m not saying this — but, many people…are saying that the judges are biased. The judges are getting involved in politics.”Kwasi Kwarteng, Tory MP and Minister of State
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Two months into his premiership and Boris Johnson has, so far, lost his majority; lost a by-election; lost every single vote held in Parliament; lost 22 Conservative MPs — and, according to the latest ruling, instructed the Queen to break the law.
- What do we not know?
- Whether voters will turn against him despite all this. The opinion polls, notoriously fickle at the best of times are showing that his popularity continues to be high. It is possible that many are fed up with Parliament, judges, the elite and even the monarchy. Perhaps Johnson is on a winning strategy.
- David Allen Green
- Journalist, lawyer and legal commentator, widely acclaimed for his clear, detailed, accurate and evidence-based legal reporting and commentary. He is also an accomplished investigative writer and campaigner.
- Top court
- The Court of Session is Scotland’s supreme civil court. It sits in Parliament House, Edinburgh, and is presided over by the Lord President, Scotland’s most senior judge.
- Gets worse.
- Prorogation is the formal term for the end of a parliamentary session, and is marked with a ceremony in the House of Lords.
- Preventing or hindering the progress of something. Originally, a golfing term for a situation on the green where a ball obstructs the shot of another player.
- Supreme Court
- The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population.
- Plaid Cymru
- Social-democratic party in Wales. It wants independence from the UK within the EU.
- Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. It does not mean removal from office: it is a statement of charges. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction by a legislative vote, which means removal from office.
- Acts of high treason mainly include: plotting to murder the sovereign (king or queen); committing adultery with the sovereign’s consort (wife or husband); starting war against the sovereign; and attempting to undermine their official line of succession.