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Johnson's Suspension Of Parliament Was 'Unlawful,' U.K. Court Rules

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost big votes again, and again in Parliament. Now, he has suffered a huge defeat in court. The U.K. Supreme Court has ruled against the prime minister. Let's remember. Johnson suspended Parliament for five weeks in what was seen as an effort to limit debate on Brexit. Well, that is the act that the court has found to be illegal. And let's bring in NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in the English seaside city of Brighton this morning. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: Well, what exactly is the court saying here?

LANGFITT: Well, if you remember, David, that Johnson argued that he needed this long extension so he could work on his legislative agenda, but Lady Brenda Hale, she was speaking for the 11 justices this morning, and she said the suspension effectively prevented legislators from doing their job. This is the way that she put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRENDA HALE: It had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.

GREENE: OK. Frank, so a big setback for the prime minister - I mean, after a series of setbacks in Parliament, now defeated in the courts.

LANGFITT: Yes. He hasn't won a vote yet, David.

GREENE: Has not won a vote yet. So how is he - is he sounding still upbeat?

LANGFITT: Well, it's interesting. He is going along with this. I don't think he has any choice. This was such a resounding verdict from the Supreme Court, but he also says he's going to continue with his policy, which the plan, as we've been talking about, is for Britain to leave the European Union on October 31 one way or the other. Johnson, of course, is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, and here's what he had to say from New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Obviously, this is a verdict that we will respect, and we respect the judicial process. I have to say, I strongly disagree with what the justices have found. I don't think that it's right, but we will go ahead and - of course, Parliament will come back. I do think there's a good case for getting on with the Queen's speech, anyway, and we'll do that.

LANGFITT: And, David, when he says the Queen's speech, what he's talking about is his legislative agenda, which he has planned - he's supposed to give on October 14 - so he does plan to go through with that. But House Speaker John Bercow, he says that Parliament will sit tomorrow, and we'll see how they spend that time. Certainly, we're going to probably hear a lot more criticism and scrutiny of Johnson's policies in the days and weeks ahead.

GREENE: What - and practically, I mean, what does this mean for, among other things, Brexit and this October 31 deadline?

LANGFITT: Well, I think that, politically, this is yet another setback for Boris Johnson, but I don't think you're going to see him back down at all. He's already said to his party, I'm going to do this - do or die. And he has - I don't think he has a lot of choice there. We are expecting a general election coming up in November or December. And certainly, Johnson knows that if he goes back on his word, he could lose a lot of voters and his greatest fear would be actually not being able to stay as prime minister and serving not a very long time.

GREENE: Well, that brings up the opposition - the opposition Labour Party, and you're actually covering their convention - right? - in Brighton. I mean, they have had their own problems as this Brexit process has been going on.

LANGFITT: They have had their own problems, David. One thing is they've not been able to come up with a policy that is clear. They're kind of straddling the fence on this, but I got to say today, this morning, for Labour this was a big victory. They were euphoric, very excited. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader - he came out on stage, he said that this verdict showed that Johnson had contempt for democracy, he'd abused power. And this is how Corbyn put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: I invite Boris Johnson, in the historic words, to consider his position...

(CHEERING)

CORBYN: ...And become the shortest-serving prime minister there's ever been.

(CHEERING)

GREENE: OK, Frank. Let's summarize. British politics in turmoil and we have no idea what happens in Brexit. Is that about where we still are?

LANGFITT: And it feels like it's been that for more than three years, David.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting this morning. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.