Sir John Major warns Boris Johnson of legal challenge if he suspends Parliament
The former PM said it would be unacceptable to prorogue Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit.
Boris Johnson has been warned by Sir John Major he could be dragged through the courts if he suspends Parliament in an effort to force a no-deal Brexit through.
Former prime minister Sir John said it would be “utterly and totally unacceptable” for any British premier to shut down Parliament, and he would seek a judicial review if it happened.
Mr Johnson has refused to rule out proroguing Parliament to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal exit from the European Union on October 31.
Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “You cannot and should not bypass Parliament in this fashion.
“I cannot imagine how anyone could conceivably think that is right.”
In order to prorogue Parliament, shutting it down until the next state opening, a prime minister would have to ask the Queen to formally allow it.
Although the Queen’s decision could not be challenged, Sir John said the advice of the prime minister could be.
The monarch would be “in the midst of a constitutional controversy that no serious politician should put the Queen in the middle of”, Sir John said.
“I for one would be prepared to go and seek judicial review to prevent Parliament being bypassed,” he added.
The potential suspension of Parliament was one of the issues on which Mr Johnson and his rival Jeremy Hunt clashed in a televised showdown on Tuesday night.
Mr Hunt issued a stark warning about the prospect of suspending Parliament.
“When that has happened in the past, when Parliament has been shut down against its will, we actually had a civil war,” Mr Hunt said.
But Mr Johnson said: “I’m not going to take anything off the table, any more than I’m going to take no-deal off the table.
“I think it’s absolutely bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK – yet again – to be weakening its own position.”
Sir John, who is backing Mr Hunt for the leadership, said: “There is no conceivable justification, wherever we are, in closing down Parliament to bypass its sovereignty.
“I seem to recall that the Brexiteers, led by Mr Johnson, actually campaigned in the referendum for the sovereignty of Parliament… They can’t be concerned for the sovereignty of Parliament except when it is inconvenient to Mr Johnson.”
The former premier was challenged over the timing of his decision to close down Parliament ahead of the 1997 general election, which prevented a report on the cash for questions scandal being considered by MPs.
Sir John said “we carried the election until almost the very last date” and it was an “absurd charge”.
The former premier, who campaigned to remain in the EU, warned the incoming prime minister not to stick rigidly to the “artificial date” for Brexit of October 31.
He warned there could be a “great deal of chaos” if businesses were not ready for a Halloween exit.
Mr Johnson has made a “do or die” commitment to that date, while Mr Hunt has also set it as his goal.
“This date of October 31 has a great deal more to do with the election for leader of the Conservative Party than it has with the interests of the country and that is the wrong way round,” Sir John said.
“National leaders look first at the interests of the country, not first at the interests of themselves and appealing to a particular part of a small electorate for a particular post, however important that post may be.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who supports Mr Johnson, said he did not believe Parliament would be suspended because the leadership frontrunner had the “force of personality” to bring people together and reach a deal.
Mr Hancock, who opposed prorogation during his own leadership campaign, told Today: “I do not think that it’s going to happen, I understand why Boris hasn’t ruled it out.
“But ultimately when you have to choose between who is going to be the next prime minister, who you want to be the next prime minister, you have to take everything into account.
“I have chosen to back Boris because he is the best person to deliver Brexit with a deal.”
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