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U.K. Parliament Member Reacts To Supreme Court's Ruling On 'Unlawful' Suspension

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom has made a dramatic decision. The court says that Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he attempted to suspend Parliament for weeks at a dramatic time. This is a big defeat for Johnson, the latest of many, but as he visits the United Nations in New York this week, he says he will go on.

(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 a good case for getting on with the Queen's Speech, anyway, and we'll do that.

INSKEEP: Let's hear from a member of Boris Johnson's party. Tom Tugendhat is a Conservative Party MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Welcome to the program, sir.

TOM TUGENDHAT: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How big a defeat is this for your side?

TUGENDHAT: Well, it's a very big defeat for the government. I've been arguing for a while that prorogation was an extremely unwise and foolish decision, and it seems that the judges agreed not only with that but that it was also illegal.

INSKEEP: So to be clear here, you are among the members of your party who disagreed with the prime minister in his effort to effectively shove Parliament out of the way for a few weeks right before Brexit?

TUGENDHAT: I did, and I think it was extremely unwise. It fundamentally didn't actually change as much as it appears to have done, but it advertised an intent in government to silence debate, which I think is foolish.

INSKEEP: It's pretty common that a prime minister gets what he wants, and now this prime minister has repeatedly not gotten what he wanted from Parliament and is also not getting what he wants from the courts. Can he go on?

TUGENDHAT: Well, the key to our system is that, in order to govern the United Kingdom, you must have a majority in Parliament. This prime minister doesn't have a majority of Parliament, and therefore it's not exactly surprising that he's not getting what he wants. What's unusual is that normally the prime minister can then call for Parliament to be dissolved and effectually - and trigger a general election.

The problem is that a number of years ago, in 2011, the so-called Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was passed, which means that he requires a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons in order to achieve this. And that's a majority he has not yet achieved, despite two attempts to do so.

INSKEEP: What now?

TUGENDHAT: Well, that's a very good question, I'm afraid one that's very difficult to answer. Nobody knows, in truth. The reality is that the government will probably still endure because, as I say, the opposition has not seen fit to call a general election. And clearly, at a constitutional moment like this, where clearly the government cannot govern and the opposition cannot oppose, the best option is to ask the people again in a vote at a general election who they wish to be the government of the United Kingdom.

INSKEEP: So let me understand the situation here. You have this deadline coming up, October 31. Parliament, over Boris Johnson's objection, has already passed a law saying there will be no no-deal Brexit, and yet there is this deadline, October 31. Suppose that effectively nothing happens - Parliament does not unite, no legislation is passed, no new election is called, everything stays as it as it is, which seems plausible - what actually happens on October 31?

TUGENDHAT: Well, look - I'm afraid - I'm not even going to begin to speculate because the number of ifs and possibles and maybes that you've got put into a sentence like that, when, frankly, it's not even possible to know what the Parliament's going to be debating tomorrow, let alone next week, I'm afraid is too great, so I'm not going to speculate on that. But what I will say is that I think that this is an extraordinary moment of challenge not just for the United Kingdom but also for our most important partners.

I mean, the U.K. is still one of the world's largest spenders on defense, is still a member of the supreme - the United Nations Security Council, is one of the world's top five or six economies and is an essential trading partner for many, including the United States.

And therefore, finding a solution to this is not just in the U.K.'s interest but actually is in the interest of all those who believe in a rules-based system, in the prosperity and peace that has succeeded over most of the last 70 years and seeks to confront some of the threats that we face not just from environmental issues but also from challenges to the world order, like Chinese and Russian breaches of various different international organizations.

INSKEEP: Mr. Tugendhat, thank you very much.

TUGENDHAT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.