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Britain's Supreme Court Rules PM Johnson Acted Illegally When He Suspended Parliament

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to the constitutional crisis on the other side of the Atlantic. The U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he suspended Parliament earlier this month. Lawmakers will return to Westminster tomorrow to explain what happened and how people are reacting. We're joined by NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's at the Labour Party convention in the seaside town of Brighton.

Welcome back, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: First, can you explain to us how this case ended up in the Supreme Court, how the court addressed it?

LANGFITT: Sure. So what happened is - remember; Boris Johnson, earlier this month, he suspended Parliament. He said the real reason for this is he just needed time to put together a legislative agenda. He'd just come into office in July. His critics, particularly opponents of Brexit and his position on Brexit, brought cases against him in the courts. And what we heard from the Supreme Court today is they bought none of what Boris Johnson said at all. They said he had no good reason to suspend Parliament and that he was out of line in asking the queen to approve the move. It was basically, honestly, Audie, a complete legal slap down against the prime minister here.

CORNISH: How did Boris Johnson respond to this?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, he said he disagrees with the justices but will respect the decision. And he said the people - you know, his point was, you know, the people who brought this case - from his perspective, they're just trying to thwart Brexit. And reminding everybody out there that the U.K. is supposed to leave the EU at the end of October. Boris Johnson right now is in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly, and this is how he put it today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: But I think the most important thing is we get on and deliver Brexit on October the 31. And it's clearly a - the claimants in this case are determined to try to frustrate that and to stop that.

CORNISH: So you're at the opposition Labour Party's convention. I'm guessing people there are probably pleased with the court's decision.

LANGFITT: Audie, they are absolutely thrilled here in Brighton. Jeremy Corbyn - he's the leader of the opposition Labour Party. He moved up his keynote speech, which is supposed to be tomorrow. He gave it today, basically, to take advantage of Johnson's defeat. And this is what Jeremy Corbyn had to say to, basically, a big, cheering crowd here in Brighton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: He thought he could do whatever he liked. He thinks he's above us all. He's part of an elite that disdains democracy. I tell you this - I don't think he's fit to be prime minister.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: Now, let's put aside that that's some crowing from the opposition, right?

LANGFITT: Of course, absolutely.

CORNISH: Boris Johnson has lost every vote he's called in Parliament.

LANGFITT: He has, Audie.

CORNISH: Now he's lost before the Supreme Court. What is the political future here?

LANGFITT: Well, the remarkable thing is he's not resigning at all, even though Jeremy Corbyn is saying he should. And the amazing thing about British politics today, Audie, is that Boris Johnson's party, the Conservatives, are leading in the polls. And one reason is that Jeremy Corbyn, who you just heard from, is even less popular than Boris Johnson. One of the reasons for that is at this meeting today - this week in Brighton, Jeremy Corbyn and the party will not back Brexit or back remaining in the EU. They won't take a firm position. I was talking to a guy named Joe Twyman. He is director of Deltapoll, a London survey research firm, and this is how he explained it.

JOE TWYMAN: He has tried to maintain a position of strategic ambiguity, more recently a position of neutrality, but that has simply not washed with the electorate. He has come across as indecisive or, even worse, he's come across as trying to obfuscate the situation.

LANGFITT: And so many people, Audie, think that that could really hurt Labour later this year in a general election.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.