Boris Johnson Trades Challenges With Lawmakers In Raucous Return To Parliament
Updated 3:35 p.m. ET
Just one day after the British Supreme Court dealt the country's prime minister a devastating blow, ruling that Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament was "unlawful, void and of no effect and should be quashed," Johnson challenged the U.K.'s newly reconvened lawmaking body to try to take him down.
Above the jeers and cheers of a raucous audience of lawmakers on Wednesday, the prime minister made clear his disapproval of the ruling.
"It is absolutely no disrespect to the judiciary to say I think the court was wrong to pronounce on what is essentially a political question at a time of great national controversy," said Johnson, who cut short his visit to the United Nations General Assembly to address Parliament.
And the Conservative leader dared Jeremy Corbyn, head of the opposition Labour Party, threw down a gauntlet.
"Is he actually going to vote no confidence in this government? Is he going to dodge a vote of no confidence in me as prime minister in order to escape the verdict of the voters?" Johnson asked, referring to Corbyn. He said opposition parties had until the end of Wednesday's session to put forward a motion of no confidence in order to schedule a vote for tomorrow.
Thus far, Corbyn has been wary of doing so, demanding the guarantee of another delay to Brexit before agreeing to such a move.
The cacophonous proceedings in the the Houses of Parliament unfolded Wednesday in the shadow of a fast-approaching Brexit deadline. Johnson has pledged to leave the European Union at the end of next month, though members of Parliament passed legislation earlier this month — shortly before Johnson suspended the legislature — that barred the possibility of leaving the bloc without first agreeing to the terms of the divorce.
The measure forces the prime minister to request an extension from the EU if such a deal is not reached by Oct. 19. Johnson has signaled reluctance to comply, saying he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit again.
Speaking directly after Johnson's address, Corbyn ignored the prime minister's challenge and instead renewed a call for his resignation.
"Quite simply, for the good of this country, he should go. He says he wants a general election," Corbyn said, referring to Johnson's two failed attempts earlier this month to persuade Parliament to call snap elections. "I want a general election. It's simple: If he wants an election, get an extension and let's have an election."
Wednesday's session remained largely focused on yesterday's Supreme Court decision. Johnson had sought to suspend Parliament for five weeks to buy himself more time to shape his Brexit agenda, intending to bring a plan to lawmakers when they returned to work in mid-October. But in blocking the move on Tuesday, the high court said the suspension "was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification."
Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party, came on forcefully with a critique of the prime minister's conduct — and a call of his own for Johnson's resignation.
"He cannot pick and choose when it comes to the law. He must obey the law. That is not leadership. He quite simply is not fit for office," Blackford said, adding: "The Prime Minister's position is no longer tenable. His failure to resign is an embarrassment."
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Johnson's allies heralded the prime minister's aggressive tack in their own approach to parliamentary discussions.
"Parliament has to determine the terms on which we leave, but this Parliament has declined three times to pass a withdrawal act with which the opposition, in relation to the withdrawal act, had absolutely no objection," said Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, to a churn of boos and jeers.
He also noted Parliament's rejection of Johnson's call for snap elections.
"We have a wide number of this house setting its face against leaving at all, and when the government draws the only logical inference from that position — which is that it must leave therefore without any deal — it still sets its face, denying the electorate the chance of having its say in how this matter should be resolved," Cox added. "This Parliament is a dead Parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches."
As for what they plan to do next, Johnson's allies carefully watched their words in front of lawmakers. Martin Callanan, the minister of state for exiting the EU, said "the government will of course abide by the law" when it comes to requesting a delay if things come to that. But when pressed about a report that Johnson may send a second letter to the EU, along with the delay request, that would seek to dissuade the bloc from granting another delay, Callanan said, "We write all sorts of letters to all sorts of people, all of the time."
"I'm sure letter writing will continue even in [the event of] no deal," he said. "And I can go no further that to repeat what I've said, which is, of course, we are a law-abiding government."