Does this mean Boris Johnson will have to step down?
No. While today’s decision is hugely embarrassing for Johnson, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has to resign. Constitutionally speaking, a Prime Minister isn’t obliged to step down unless they lose the confidence of the House of Commons. While many pundits act as if Johnson has already lost the confidence of the Commons due to his lack of a majority, this isn’t the case from a constitutional standpoint. Since the Commons hasn’t passed a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, Johnson still technically enjoys the confidence of the House.
While some opposition parties have called for an immediate vote of no confidence, Labour seems to be hedging its bets. The political reality in the Commons means that it would be difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to form a viable alternative government, so a vote of no confidence would likely lead to a General Election. Given that the polls still show the Conservatives well ahead of Labour, Corbyn has reason to be wary of going to the country.
Will any of the people who advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament be punished?
Probably not. Judicial review is a civil proceeding, not a criminal one, so while the prorogation was unlawful, that doesn’t mean anyone committed a crime. To use an American analogy, the president doesn’t get thrown in jail just because one of their executive orders is deemed unconstitutional.
In theory, the Commons could decide to impeach Johnson & Co., but that’s unlikely to happen. No one has been impeached in the UK since the early 19th century, and many authorities maintain that the process has fallen into desuetude (even Erskine May, the ‘bible’ of parliamentary of procedure, only discusses impeachment in passing nowadays). It would be far easier for MPs to simply bring down the Government through a vote of no confidence.
Will there still be a Queen’s Speech on October 14?
As things stand, no. Parliament must be prorogued before the Queen can address Parliament, and the prorogation that took place earlier this month effectively never happened. Consequently, if Johnson wants to have a Queen’s Speech, he’ll need to prorogue Parliament anew. While that remains constitutionally possible, it’s unclear if it’s politically possible.
What does this ruling mean for the British Monarchy?
While it’s generally agreed that the Queen is blameless in this matter since convention obliged her to act on Johnson’s advice, today’s judgment will make for uncomfortable reading at the Palace. Her Majesty was induced to act unlawfully, and that’s not a good position for a constitutional monarch to be in. The fact that the court left open the question of whether or not the Queen could have refused Johnson’s advice will also likely lead to some soul searching among Her Majesty’s private advisers.
What does this mean for Brexit?
Today’s decision probably diminishes the chances of a no-deal Brexit on October 31, but it doesn’t change the fundamental problem facing the Commons. While MPs have been very good about saying what they don’t want, they have yet to decide what they do want. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to make a choice, whether it’s endorsing a withdrawal agreement, holding a second referendum, revoking Article 50, or accepting a no-deal Brexit.
If there are any other questions about today’s decision, please leave them in the comments.