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Delay in first legal challenge to UK’s Brexit plans

(An anti Brexit demonstrator wears a mask depicting Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson protests outside the Cabinet office in London, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Political opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament is crystalizing, with protests around Britain and a petition to block the move gaining more than 1 million signatures. AP Photo: Alastair Grant)

By GREGORY KATZ and LORNE COOK, LONDON (AP): The first legal challenge to prevent British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from suspending Parliament amid the U.K.’s Brexit crisis was delayed in a Scottish court on Friday.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh refused to take immediate legal action to prevent Johnson from suspending Parliament for several weeks during part of the period before the Brexit deadline of Oct. 31.

Judge Raymond Doherty, however, said a full hearing on the case will be heard Tuesday, raising the prospect that the government’s move could still be blocked. He said there is no need for an immediate injunction because a “substantive” hearing on the case will be heard next week.

The full hearing had originally been set for Sept. 6, but was moved up.

Law professor Nick McKerrell at Glasgow Caledonian University said the decision to speed up the hearing may be significant because it indicates the matter is being treated with urgency.

“This is not the end of the matter,” he said after the judge declined to take immediate action.

The case was brought by a cross-party group of legislators seeking to broaden the period for parliamentary debate in a bid to prevent a disorderly departure by Britain from the European Union. They assert Johnson didn’t honestly explain the real reason for the suspension, which the prime minister said was routine.

Two other legal cases are in progress, one in Northern Ireland and another in London. Former Prime Minister John Major said Friday he is seeking to join the case in London to argue against suspension.

“If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the court from the perspective of having served in government as a minister and prime minister, and also in Parliament for many years as a member of the House of Commons,” he said.

Major is an outspoken critic of Brexit who had vowed to intervene legally if Johnson sought to prevent parliamentary debate on the issue.

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, also expressed a desire to join that case, and the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, urged backers to take part in street protests planned this weekend.

The legal battles are designed to prevent Johnson from substantially shortening the amount of time Parliament will be given to enact legislation that might prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, which many economists believe would plunge Britain into a deep recession.

The defiant prime minister warned Friday that the opposition to his plans is weakening Britain’s negotiating position by giving EU leaders the impression that Parliament may step in to block Brexit.

“I’m afraid that the more our friends and partners think, at the back of their mind, that Brexit could be stopped, that the U.K. could be kept in by Parliament, the less likely they are to give us the deal that we need,” Johnson told Sky News. He claimed there is still time to make a deal with the EU.

Johnson has repeatedly vowed to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 even if no arrangement has been reached. His predecessor, Theresa May, reached an agreement with EU leaders, but Britain’s Parliament repeatedly rejected the terms.

In Helsinki, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the government’s decision to suspend Parliament and rejected suggestions that the move will prevent lawmakers from debating Brexit.

At talks with EU foreign ministers in Finland, Raab said that “the idea that this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense. It’s actually lawful. It’s perfectly proper. There’s precedent for it.”

His EU counterparts expressed concern that a no-deal exit from the bloc appears more likely, but most declined to comment on the government’s move, saying it is a matter for Britain to resolve.

“Westminster is the mother of all parliaments, and now you have a situation where that parliament is in danger of being sidelined. It’s a way of proceeding in democracy that doesn’t quite conform to the rules,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

Johnson has insisted he was taking the step so he could outline his domestic agenda.

“I’m worried,” Asselborn said. “A no-deal is a catastrophe. It could cost thousands and thousands of jobs and needlessly create misery. I hope that political reason will prevail.”


Lorne Cook reported from Helsinki.

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